RSPO Daily Update – 14th November 2018

Day Two at the RSPO Roundtable moved into ‘official’ business, with the opening address from RSPO CEO Datuk Daryl Webber and a keynote address from Professor Kai Chan of the University of British Columbia. But when it came to substance, the day was about two things: no deforestation commitments and smallholders. Here are the key points:

The revised principles and criteria are probably a shoo-in. Members of the Secretariat walked through the entire P&C revision process and gave an overview of the revisions themselves. The ‘no deforestation’ commitments were in their words probably the most controversial and difficult part of the revisions process. Although the assessment methodology has been defined, there are still some elements that haven’t been finalised. These are going to be left to a joint HCSA-RSPO steering group. This is a slightly uncertain element that members should probably keep an eye on; the idea that unfinalized elements can be voted on is, well, vague.

The emphasis on smallholder inclusion continues. Although the largest smallholder-related resolution is about keeping the smallholder program and strategy going, the more important element is the introduction of a smallholder standard next year, and a vote on the standard at the Roundtable in 2019. But the points that were reiterated at the meeting today were:

  • It’s essential that RSPO do better on including smallholders;
  • Smallholders will require a less stringent standard to participate;
  • Smallholders will require a high degree of support from millers and other stakeholders for inclusion to happen.

There was also a (belated) recognition that RSPO was set up for large plantation companies, and that this has led to the ongoing exclusion of smallholders; and that RSPO is by its very nature exclusive, i.e. it is difficult. Unilever’s representative was particularly outspoken on including smallholders; this is no doubt a response to the criticism the company received after excluding around half of its smallholders from its supply chain in 2013 in order to achieve traceability targets.

A speculative theory: No deforestation commitments and smallholder inclusion are related.  RSPO’s volumes are up on last year, but down from the year prior. Does this mean volumes have plateaued? If that’s the case, how does the organisation expand those volumes, particularly if it’s going to severely crimp expansion? By including smallholders, the organisation has something of an approach to expanding volumes and area, as well as achieving more on social and economic outcomes. The support the smallholder initiatives have from large processing companies adds to this narrative. While this could be read as ‘win-win’, it’s still disappointing that smallholders remain second place in relation to no deforestation commitments.

Tomorrow: the General Assembly votes on the new P&Cs and numerous other proposals.