November 2014

What is the HCS Approach?

The HCS Approach is being developed as a tool to help companies and other stakeholders implement commitments to end deforestation. It builds on the methodology developed by Golden Agri Resources, Greenpeace and TFT since 2011. It aims to provide a practical and credible way to identify degraded areas suitable for potential plantation development and forest areas that merit protection to maintain and enhance carbon, biodiversity and social values. In practice, the approach integrates HCS assessments with High Conservation Value (HCV) assessments, the protection of peat lands, 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.

How is the HCS Approach used to implement No Deforestation commitments?

The last year has seen an increasing number of producer and consumer companies make commitments to break the link between palm oil and and negative environmental and social impacts, including deforestation. Various consumer companies including Mars, Nestle, Colgate Palmolive and Unilever, refer to the HCS methodology in their responsible sourcing policies.  Protection of HCV areas and HCS forests, in combination with upholding human and workers rights, including obtaining FPIC for any new developments has become the basis of a No Deforestation commitment. To ensure its credibility it is crucial that companies cease all vegetation clearance while these assessments are taking place by credible assesors and community consent is sought, similar to the proper implementation of the New Plantings Procedure under Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil. 

Why is the HCS Approach needed?

As NGOs, we have seen that measures to protect forests under the current RSPO standard are not strict and robust enough. High Conservation Value assessments generally do not lead to the conservation and restoration of the majority of secondary or degraded forests inside the concession. The HCS methodology was developed as a tool to identify and protect forested areas in addition to HCV assessments and respecting FPIC, which are mandatory under RSPO. We encourage the RSPO to further strenghten its principles and criteria to include the protection of HCS forests. Until the RSPO is able to deliver physically certified and deforestation free palm oil, companies can use the Charter of the Palm Oil Innovation Group to obtain third party verification of their commitments to protect HCS forests under a No Deforestation commitment.

What is the HCS Approach Steering Group?

A multi-stakeholder body called the HCS Steering Group was recently set up to oversee and govern the HCS Approach. The group will lead a process for further development and global standardisation of the HCS methodology. This includes seeking reviews and advice from a science committee and expert guidance based on a range of field trials. In addition to standardisation, to assist its widespread adoption, the Steering Group will develop a process to ensure quality control of the use of the methodology.  Furthermore, a ‘Consultation Forum’ is being established to inform and receive feedback from key stakeholder groups including consumer companies, governments, community organisation, as well as coordinate with institutions including the RSPO, Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and the High Conservation Value Resource Network. It will reach out to other parties developing thinking and practice on HCS assessments. While the starting point for HCS was in the palm oil industry, this tool can also be useful for different plantation industries. The HCS Steering Group intends to further develop a cross-commodity approach to identifying and protecting HCS forests.

Who is involved in the HCS Approach Steering Group?

The initial executive committee of the Steering Group is comprised of the following organisations: Forest Peoples Programme (FPP), Greenpeace and WWF; plantation companies: Agropalma, Asia Pulp and Paper (APP), Golden Agri-Resources (GAR) and Wilmar and the technical support company TFT.  Other palm oil producers involved in the Steering Group are New Britain Palm Oil and Cargill. The Steering Group invites all relevant stakeholders to participate in this credible multi-stakeholder forum.  Consumer companies Unilever, Procter & Gamble and Nestle have expressed support and interest to engage in this process.

What is the difference between the HCS Approach Steering Group and the Sustainable Palm Oil Manifesto’s High Carbon Study?

A study on High Carbon Stock has been initiated by the Sustainable Palm Oil Manifesto  (SPOM) group. As NGOs we do not support the Sustainable Palm Oil Manifesto as it falls short of the new benchmarks for responsible palm oil production and trade. We are not involved with the SPOM Steering Committee and this committee is currently not a multistakeholder driven initiative. However, we are looking forward to the results of their HCS study, and hope that its findings will further strengthen the HCS Approach as it is currently implemented by various other companies. The HCS Approach is a tool to put in practice commitments to break the link between palm oil and deforestation. The HCS Approach Steering Group will consider any recommendations from the HCS Study that will contribute to this goal.

A important element of the HCS Approach is that companies stop the clearance of forested areas while HCS assessments are carried out to identify areas for conservation and what can potentially be developed. While the SPOM companies initially were hesitant to commit to this, their recent announcement to temporarily halt the clearance of potential HCS is a good first step. Uncertainly remains on how they define ‘potential HCS forests.’ We urge the SPOM companies to adopt strong social and environmental safeguards for all the palm oil they use through their supply chains.

For more information and media request:

Grant Rosoman           Phone: +64 142 8415 Email: 


–       HCS Launch Media Statement:–No-Deforestation-Commitments/


–       GAR/TFT/Greenpeace- HCS report:


–       POIG Charter: