Credibility of the RSPO Brand Remains in Question, Says Rainforest Action Network

More reforms are needed to RSPO standard, auditing and enforcement of its members in the palm oil sector  


CONTACT: Emma Rae Lierley,, +1 425.281.1989

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia – At a time of increased global pressure to improve the palm oil industry, key players have gathered in Kuala Lumpur for the annual meeting of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). The issue at the top of the agenda is the increasing lack of credibility in the RSPO’s so-called “sustainable palm oil” brand.

It remains to be seen whether or not the RSPO will undertake the reforms needed to address this, as its members continue to be linked to forest fires, deforestation, egregious labor rights abuses and ongoing conflicts with communities across Indonesia, Malaysia, and new frontiers in Liberia, Latin America and Papua New Guinea.

“Amidst an environmental, human rights and health crisis resulting from the forest fires in Indonesia, which have been intentionally lit to cheaply clear land for palm oil development, and increasing exposure of the abuse of workers in the palm oil sector, the RSPO’s efforts fall short of what is needed to protect forests, climate and the rights of workers and local communities,” said Gemma Tillack, Agribusiness Campaign Director for Rainforest Action Network (RAN).

“The RSPO continues to certify palm oil companies that are driving the gross violation of human and workers’ rights across the globe. Its failure to implement a truly independent audit of the systemic human and labor rights abuses recently documented in the plantations of its member, Malaysian palm oil giant FELDA, is only one demonstration of its shortcoming.

“The RSPO is also failing to uphold the rights of communities across Indonesia, Malaysia, Liberia, Latin America and Papua New Guinea who are saying ‘No’ to palm oil development by RSPO members, such as Kuala Lumpur Kepong Berhad (KLK),” Tillack said.

The RSPO has responded to the increasing scrutiny by proposing a new voluntary scheme, know as RSPO Next.

“One of the most significant weaknesses of RSPO Next is that it remains an opt-in verification system, which will not apply to all RSPO members. The RSPO Next indicators still fall short of other leading voluntary verification standards, notably the Palm Oil Innovation Group (POIG).

“These vital flaws mean that its members’ operations will still be at risk of association with deforestation, climate emissions from clearance on peatlands and human and labor rights violations, thus leaving the credibility of RSPO certification in question,” Tillack said.

RAN recommends the RSPO prioritize efforts to universally improve the RSPO system and performance of all its members. RAN recommends the RSPO undertake three key actions, including:

  1. Fast-track a review and update of the Principles & Criteria, and adopt recommendations by December 2016;

  2. Commission an independent investigation of the RSPO’s current auditing system against best practices, with a focus on human and labor rights, and adopt a time-bound plan to reform RSPO auditing procedures by March 2016; and

  3. Adopt a transparent and enhanced mechanism for enforcing sanctions against member companies that repeatedly violate the RSPO Principles and Criteria and Code of Conduct by June 2016.


*Critical shortcomings of the proposed RSPO Next strategy include:

  • The failure to require no development on High Carbon Stock forests using the High Carbon Stock Approach. A ‘carbon neutral’ based approach modeled after the Sustainable Palm Oil Manifesto High Carbon Stock Study is unacceptable.

  • The failure to require a ban on recruitment fees for workers, prohibit retention of passports or other identity documents, or define working hours and leave.

  • The failure to require improved participatory land claim mapping and land use planning processes to accommodate local communities’ livelihoods and aspirations, and respect for the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities to give or withhold their free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) to proposed developments that may affect their lands. Land use planning must ensure food security on customary lands over time, including periodic reviews and renegotiation of agreements to ensure inter-generational food security.

  • The failure to require a ban on the use of Paraquat and other highly toxic, bio-accumulative and persistent pesticides.

  • The failure to require plans to monitor, report and progressively reduce greenhouse gas emissions from all sources.

For a full list of indicators that should be incorporated into a strengthened standard please see These indicators have been developed, and are being field tested, by the Palm Oil Innovation Group members.