RSPO Daily Update – 13th November 2018

The first day of this year’s RSPO Roundtable took place today and POM is reporting daily from Kota Kinabalu in Malaysia. We won’t give you a full breakdown of the day’s events, just key points from the day’s presentations and proceedings.

This year’s RT is significant because of the 5-year review of the Principles and Criteria. Everything that happens at this meeting shapes RSPO’s rules for the next five years. Consequently, there’s a lot of lobbying and pressure being put on members to vote in a particular way.

Day One comprised ‘Preparatory Clusters’; this was about giving delegates background on proposals being voted on in the General Assembly.

Here are the day’s takeaways.

Smallholders are still on the fringe. The smallholder session bore out the fact that RSPO hasn’t come close to meeting its smallholder inclusion targets – originally 1.2 million families by 2018. Companies such as Musim Mas and NGOs such as Wild Asia pointed out that certification for smallholders might be the end goal, but it’s very far from the entry point. According to both, most farmers are still struggling to have productive and profitable farms, let alone trying to be ‘sustainable’. The daily concern of farmers isn’t anything to do with certification; it’s prices. One great call came from Wild Asia, which called on the big brands to get more involved in the smallholder story.

Uptake targets continue to be a problem. The ‘progress’ session looked at whether the organisation’s uptake and production targets are being met and what can be done to change them. In the EU breakout group, some interesting points were raised. First, although the uptake on paper might only be 55 per cent, it may be higher; not all RSPO-certified palm is being sold as certified palm. Some of it is being sold as ISCC, and therefore not registering. Second, a lot of the ‘final quarter’ of uptake in the EU is made problematic by palm oil’s diverse industrial applications in Europe. Third, many food producers simply don’t want to highlight their use of palm oil in the EU, even if it comes from RSPO – that’s how far negative perceptions have gone.

RSPO may be trying to do everything. There’s a call for ‘shared responsibility’ all along the supply chain. This is the idea that producer commitments on labour and other social outcomes should be mirrored by other companies that are further downstream. This is a noble pursuit in that it places equal responsibility on all participants. However, there is the likelihood that it will simply scare off new players. This highlights the tension throughout the RSPO itself; tighter rules might achieve a better outcome, but they will inevitably exclude some participants.

The HCSA-HCV process still excludes smallholders. The HCSA-HCV integrated approach will likely be introduced as of the vote on Friday. The objective is to ‘de-link’ palm oil from deforestation. However, the rules for HCSA and smallholders are still yet to be defined. According to the HCSA proponents, the goal is to come up with a simplified HCSA approach that looks more like a checklist than an assessment; and HCS-HCV assessments will be left off for smallholders. The timeline for the checklist is mid-2019, but this seems overly ambitious. Moreover, given the problems that RSPO has had attempting to include smallholders, is this going to make things any better?

RSPO still doesn’t understand anti-palm campaigns. UK purchasers of palm oil and palm products – represented by UK retailers – apparently believe that tighter standards and the ‘no deforestation’ approach will end attacks on palm oil and anti-palm oil statements from companies such as Iceland. This is about as naïve as it gets. This was one of the motivations for RSPO being set up in the first place – and the attacks continue. Both purchasers and Greenpeace appear to believe that slogans such as ‘Drop Dirty Palm Oil’ make enough of a distinction for the public between ‘good’ palm oil and ‘bad’.  Greenpeace are communications experts; they know full well that there’s nothing positive in a slogan like that.

We’ll have a full summary of Day Two’s plenaries with you tomorrow.