A Lonely Voice For Forests, People, And The Climate

posted by Rainforest Action Network
The 9th Annual RSPO Meeting is in Sabah (Malaysian Borneo)
The 9th Annual RSPO Meeting is in Sabah (Malaysian Borneo)

In an interview, Dr. Marc Ancrenanz of HUTAN notes that oil palm plantations cover a staggering 14,000 square kilometers of Sabah, one of the two states in Malaysian Borneo and the number one producer of Malaysian palm oil. This is equal to 20 Singapores planted solely with palm!

In the same interview, Dr. Marc Ancrenanz mentions that genetic studies in Sabah show that the orangutan population has declined by 50% to 90% over the past few decades. This severe decline is due to several causes, such as hunting and the illegal pet trade, but the foremost reason is forest loss as it is cut down and converted to agriculture.

This final frontier — home of our globe’s oldest rainforests and last stands of orangutans — is the setting for this year’s RSPO conference, where strange bedfellows come together and debate the “sustainable” palm oil industry. Activists, industry heavy weights, and the Malaysian Palm Oil Association spend three days playing their respective hands in the struggle over the fate of  tropical forests. Major plantation companies like Sime Darby and Wilmar attend the conference to try and stop the RSPO from making it any more difficult for them to convert rainforest to palm oil plantations, while RAN brings a different set of values to the meeting.

Next week, when families across North America are celebrating Thanksgiving with their families, our team will be attending the 9th annual Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) conference in Borneo.

Comprised of mostly Indonesia and Malaysia, Borneo is the third-largest island in the world and is known for being one of the most biologically and culturally rich landscapes in the world. Unfortunately, these incredible rainforests are in grave danger from Indonesia and Malaysia’s unchecked agricultural expansion.

Our goal is to advocate for human rights, demonstrate the need for companies to establish safeguards on their palm oil supply chains, and stop the RSPO from certifying forest conversion in the face of this industrial agriculture onslaught. We will gather stories from community members affected by Cargill suppliers, many of whom attend the conference as delegates of Sawit Watch and travel from several different regions impacted by the palm oil operations of Sime Darby, Tribakti Sari Mas, Cresna Duta Agrindo, & Asiatic Persada/Wilmar. The controversy-laden palm oil peddled by these companies is exported around the world by Cargill and ends up in half of the products in your grocery store — think Kellogg’s, Smucker’s, and Girl Scout cookies.

The RSPO has come a long way, but not far enough
The RSPO has come a long way, but not far enough

Throughout the conference RAN will be advocating for several demands to ensure that human rights and the environment are respected by the palm oil industry: The RSPO must start protecting rainforests and the communities and species that depend on them, and must stop certifying palm oil as “sustainable” if it was grown using the horribly destructive practice of draining carbon rich peatlands and exacerbating climate change. The RSPO must also stop dragging its feet and adopt a greenhouse gas emissions standard if it wants its palm oil certification standard to have any level of credibility.

Lastly, the RSPO must implement an effective grievance process that actually addresses pending social conflict complaints and includes a dispute settlement facility that truly respects human rights.