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May 06, 2015

New RSPO+ Voluntary Addendum Falls Short

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

CONTACT: Emma Rae Lierley, 425.281.1989, Emma@ran.org

More reforms needed to address deforestation, climate impacts, human and labor rights issues in the palm oil industry

San Francisco, CA -- The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) announced today that it is working on a set of additional guidelines on deforestation, peatland development and  Indigenous Peoples’ rights that its grower members can voluntarily apply to their plantations. However, these voluntary new guidelines, called RSPO+, will not apply to all members and do not aim to address the other weaknesses of the RSPO system, such as its auditing, accountability and enforcement mechanisms.

The existing RSPO standard, called the Principles and Criteria, was passed in April of 2013. Since that time, outrage from civil society at the RSPO’s continued allowance of deforestation and clearance of peatlands within certified operations, as well as its failure to resolve grievances or adequately sanction RSPO members, has diminished its credibility in the market. A large number of its members, including consumer goods manufacturing, as well as trading and producing companies, have adopted voluntary commitments that go beyond the RSPO standard, and have set more stringent requirements for their suppliers to eliminate deforestation, peatlands clearance, and human and labor rights violations in their operations.

Today's announcement of a voluntary RSPO+ addendum falls short of the improvements and reforms that are required to ensure that all RSPO members’ operations are not associated with deforestation, peatlands clearance, and human and labor rights violations.

Robin Averbeck, Forest Campaigner for the Rainforest Action Network (RAN), issued the following response: 

“Today’s announcement from the RSPO falls short of what is required to drive a real transformation of the palm oil sector. The RSPO+ Voluntary Addendum will only act as a stopgap measure to fix the current gaps in the Principles and Criteria, including on deforestation and clearance of peatlands, for companies which opt into a higher standard. What is required are comprehensive and binding reforms that address the gaps in the standard; fast-track improvements to third-party assessments and auditing, enforcement mechanisms, and transparency; and reform governance and decision-making structures.

“Given the widespread adoption of responsible palm oil policies by consumer brand companies, traders and producers that already go beyond the RSPO standard, it is clear that the RSPO must innovate to meet market expectations that palm oil production is not associated with negative environmental or social impacts. But more fundamentally, RSPO's credibility is largely in question due to the RSPO’s lack of enforcement of its own standards.

“A current example of how the RSPO is falling short of consumer expectations is the case involving palm oil giant, IOI Group's plantations in Ketapang, West Kalimantan. Five years ago, the Friends of the Earth report “Too Green to be True” demonstrated that IOI’s subsidiaries had illegally grabbed thousands of hectares of land without having secured a plantation business permit and environmental permit. The RSPO Complaints Panel dismissed the formal complaint against IOI based on the company’s promise not to do it again. However, when field investigators revisited the case earlier this year, they found that IOI continued to violate Indonesia’s laws and RSPO’s standards and procedures.

“The RSPO must act quickly to gain credibility with key external stakeholders and those in the marketplace. ‘Band-Aid’ solutions like the RSPO+ initiative will not be enough to ensure that deforestation, climate emissions from clearance on peatlands and human and labor rights violations do not continue to occur in RSPO member companies’ operations, and therefore will fail to offer the assurances that the marketplace and civil society are seeking.

“Comprehensive reforms must be designed with input from a full range of stakeholders, with particular focus on those who have been most impacted by the negative aspects of conventional palm oil production and historically left out of the RSPO system, including labor unions, local NGOs and communities.”    

RAN is a member of the Palm Oil Innovation Group (POIG), and has worked with progressive RSPO members to outline a comprehensive set of additional social, environmental, and transparency requirements that build upon the RSPO Principles and Criteria. For more information, see poig.org

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