Get A Free Ride With Malaysia’s New Sustainable Palm Oil Certification Scheme

posted by Rainforest Action Network
Malaysia's Commodities Minister Bernard Dompok
Malaysia's Commodities Minister Bernard Dompok

If a massive palm oil company decides that getting its plantations certified by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) is, well, just too hard, what do you think happens?

The Malaysian government comes to the rescue, of course, and comes up with a solution that will allow IOI — the largest palm oil plantation company in Malaysia — and a concerned Australian food industry to cover their asses by obtaining the green stamp of sustainability with more ease and efficiency.

Like a bad movie that just keeps getting worse, the Malaysian government recently decided to prioritize the expansion of palm oil at any cost by creating its own “sustainable palm oil” certification scheme that is much weaker than even the RSPO.

It seems that in an interesting chain of events, IOI may have found a way to continue undermining Indigenous rights by disregarding the native customary land rights of Long Teran Kenan (LTK). Backed by the Malaysian government, IOI will in effect be able to skirt a severe case of social conflict, and in the process completely undermine the RSPO grievance process, while at the same time managing to sell its palm oil to Australia as “sustainable.” Troubling.

A monoculture palm oil plantation

According to, Bernard Dompok, Malaysia’s commodities minister, said the country’s plan to create its own sustainable palm oil certification scheme “is moving forward after the NGO and industry-backed RSPO reportedly accused Malaysian palm oil producer IOI Corp of violating its certification standards, and suspended plans to certify its plantations. ‘We will go ahead [with plans for a new certification scheme] because the RSPO keeps on changing its goal posts on how to produce sustainable palm oil,’ said Dompok.”

Wait a minute, let me get this straight: the RSPO — widely criticized for failing to enforce key social and environmental safeguards — is being too tough on IOI Group? In reality, as we’ve seen with the IOI case, the RSPO is just starting to flex its enforcement muscle, which has been quite welcomed by social and environmental NGOs. When the RSPO grievance panel swiftly responded to the grievance letter submitted by a dozen concerned NGOs in May and ruled that IOI was in breach of the RSPO Code of Conduct, suspending IOI’s plans to certify its plantations, RAN applauded the RSPO’s action. IOI’s illegal activity continues to drag on as the community of LTK struggles to regain possession of its native land.

Malaysia Under Pressure: Australia's Palm Oil Labeling Bill
Malaysia Under Pressure: Australia's Palm Oil Labeling Bill

Clearly IOI is looking for a free ride. Is the Aussie food industry doing the same thing? According to the Australian food industry, “The best way for Malaysia to counter the rising negative sentiment in Australia towards palm oil is to quickly increase the production of sustainable palm oil. One suggestion is to set a deadline for growers to fully adopt sustainable practices.” With mounting pressure from Australian consumers to label products that contain palm oil, manufacturers are swiftly looking into certified sustainable palm oil.

In Australia’s race to populate its grocery stores with products labeled with “sustainable palm oil,” will it use any discretion or simply lose sight of key social and environmental criteria? To keep Australia from watering down certification schemes for sustainable palm oil, consumers must not fall for Malaysia’s greenwash and demand real standards that are based on sound science.

Concerned that the emergence of competitive standards could make it harder to ensure that palm oil has been sourced from plantations that adhere to demanding environmental standards, RAN will continue working to improve both the standards of RSPO Certification as well as push for increased enforcement of RSPO members. Clearly, the RSPO still has major gaps, but unless we remain committed to improving it we may end up with far weaker and less legitimate certification schemes.