RSPO Dispatch: Cargill’s message to local communities – We have no time for you

posted by Margaret Ran

The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) was founded to create a path towards sustainability in the palm oil industry. A voluntary process, oil palm producers, traders, buyers, and NGO’s have joined up to find an alternative to the massive forest destruction, social conflict, and climate chaos the booming palm oil industry is bringing to the world’s rainforests. But eight years into the process, there is still nothing sustainable about the palm oil the RSPO endorses.

Early on, the RSPO identified accountability and transparency as key criteria to reduce the palm oil industry’s corrupt, dirty, and dangerous practices. Reflecting such, the first criteria for joining the RSPO are commitments to transparency.

But even a basic level of transparency is too much to ask from the USA’s largest producer and trader of palm oil, Cargill. Cargill was quick to sign up for the RSPO and to claim their support for the RSPO’s criteria. But when it comes to actually following the RSPO’s criteria for sustainable palm oil, Cargill is a non-starter. Hiring a questionable audit firm, Cargill has managed to pay its way into RSPO certification without living up to RSPO criteria.

This week, I attended the RSPO’s annual conference with two victims of Cargill’s oil palm operations in Indonesia. These community members, one of them the head of his small Indonesian village, traveled thousands of miles to meet Cargill face to face, to fight for the land Cargill has taken away from them.

Interested in their plight, one of the top-ranking members of the RSPO’s Executive Board agreed to help set up a meeting with Cargill. But William Griffiths, one of Cargill’s key managers based in Singapore, refused to meet with these effected community members. Cargill’s reply: “It is better we do not meet.”

William Griffiths had the time to travel from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur, to spend multiple days at the RSPO, meeting with buyers and other palm oil producers, but he did not find 30 minutes to listen to representatives from his own plantations express their concerns about Cargill’s dirty, dangerous, and neo-colonial practices in Indonesia.

Palm oil production in Indonesia, where Cargill is a major player, is killing the last of the world’s wild orangutans, bringing poverty to forest peoples,  and causing global warming. The first step in addressing these issues is to bring access and accountability to these companies. As William Griffiths made painfully clear at the RSPO, Cargill has no interest in improving their negative practices, no interest in the welfare of local communities at their plantations, and has repeatedly failed to live up to their own commitments to the RSPO.

MORE on Cargill’s legacy of destruction and neo-colonial practices in Indonesia.