Industry giants weigh in on sustainable palm oil

By Deanna Utroske

- Last updated on GMT

Industry giants weigh in on sustainable palm oil
This week J&J, P&G, Colgate-Palmolive, and Seventh Generation along with numerous other interested companies and investors ran a letter on the non-profit sustainability site urging the RSPO to adjust its certification standards. 

The RSPO replied quickly saying, “It is encouraging to see that more and more actors today are willing to play an active role in moving towards a sustainable palm oil supply chain, and share RSPO’s vision of making sustainable palm oil the norm.”

Discussion forum

The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil launched in 2004 to implement standards and connect stakeholders globally. Since then the group has dealt with issues of traceability, licensing, biodiversity, cultivation on peatland, smallholder needs, and much more.

The group’s reply states that the “RSPO not only supports existing exemplary organisations, but also assists those who are still trying to improve their sustainability standards.”

Intricate regulations, of the sort advocated for in the letter, often work in favor of large, high revenue corporations that can invest in the necessary infrastructure. While smaller scale enterprises and grassroots manufacturers in and beyond developing economies may find such standards prohibitive.

It’s worth noting that 40% of global palm oil is produced by smallholders, according to the RSPO. (Conventionally, the term smallholder applies to production on an area of land under 50 acres.)

In its reply the association pointed to a voluntary addendum​ it’s working on that focuses on matters of deforestation, peatland development and indigenous peoples rights.

Also this week, the NGO membership association for sustainability standards ISEAL granted the RSPO full membership​. This implies that the RSPO standards are credible in comparison to its global peer organizations focused on sustainability. (Read more on this development from Cosmetics Design here​.)

Dear Mr. Webber

The letter bears the signatures of leaders at J&J, P&G, Colgate-Palmolive, numerous religious organizations, select political figures (including Scott Stringer, the Comptroller of New York City), as well as investment funds and groups.

J&J as well as Colgate-Palmolive already have their own, stricter, sourcing standards in place, and signed on to the letter in hopes of encouraging the RSPO to keep up with industry expectations.

The letter takes issue with, among other things, deforestation caused by palm oil production. “Most worryingly, by razing rainforests to farm the oil, companies are releasing dangerous quantities of greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere, making palm oil production a big contributor to climate change,” ​writes Alison Moodie for The Gaurdain.

The letter also calls for the preservation of peatlands as well as better human rights standards. “Considering that RSPO remains in our estimation an indispensable organization, it’s therefore especially important they implement a higher standard of protection of human rights,”​ says Pat Doherty, corporate governance director for the office of New York State Comptroller Thomas P DiNapoli.

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