SPECIAL ANALYSIS: Greenpeace’s Certification Play in Brussels

Earlier this week Greenpeace released a broad ranging report taking aim at certification schemes worldwide.

The report is a major attack on certification schemes, covering palm, soy and timber.

But make no mistake, this is an attack on palm oil and palm oil certification. Palm oil is mentioned almost twice as often as soybean, and more than four times as often as wood. This is, of course, despite the fact that the deforestation footprint of soybean is basically double that of palm oil. There is absolutely zero criticism of certification schemes for other crops such as maize, which has higher deforestation footprint than palm oil.

More to the point, private sector commitments to deforestation free supply chains in the palm sector outstrip all other commodities.

In addition, the bull in the room is that certification of livestock simply is not mentioned at all; and we shouldn’t have to remind that the livestock deforestation footprint is roughly ten times that of palm oil.

It’s also worth pointing out that this appears to be an attack on Southeast Asia. Indonesia is mentioned around 109 times; Malaysia 32 times. Brazil, on the other hand is mentioned 21 times. This is in a week when it was reported that deforestation in Brazil has hit a 12-year high; while deforestation in Indonesia is at its lowest levels in 30 years

So, what does Greenpeace want? And why has Greenpeace gone after palm oil – and Indonesia – in such a strong way?

There are several reasons, but the most obvious of these is in Greenpeace’s recommendations at the end of the report:

“Governments and legislators must not accept certification schemes as a way to demonstrate compliance with legal requirements related to the protection of forests, ecosystems and  human rights … a sound regulatory approach must be based on the requirement for companies to provide, under their own responsibility, reliable and verifiable evidence that their supply chains and products are free of deforestation, ecosystem conversion, degradation of forests and other ecosystems and human rights violations.”

With this report, Greenpeace is taking aim at key pieces of regulation that are currently in play in Brussels.

First, the proposed European Due Diligence Regulation. The European Commission is likely to propose a law in June requiring European companies to exercise due diligence along all elements of their supply chain, including human rights, governance, and the environment. On Tuesday – the same day that the Greenpeace report was released – a vote in European Parliament was held pushing for tougher rules. MEPs stated in their tabled report that “voluntary due diligence standards have limitations and have not achieved significant progress in preventing human rights and environmental harm and in enabling access to justice.”

Second, a new set of technical standards for financial institutions requiring them to disclose information on sustainability benchmarks in their investments. This regulation was also the reason behind a Greenpeace protest at the European Central bank this week.

Third, the adoption of the EU Communication on Stepping up EU Action against Deforestation and Forest Degradation. A key part of this will be requiring importers to take measures to reduce ‘imported deforestation’. As part of the Green New Deal it is expected that this will be tabled later this year.

Fourth, the EU and Indonesia have just completed a negotiating round for a free trade agreement.

Although these rules and regulations are ultimately the target for Greenpeace, the NGO is simply using Indonesia and palm oil as cannon-fodder for its broader campaign to sway EU lawmakers.

This is evidenced by the sheer number of factual errors and lack of rigour within the report itself, which range from: Greenpeace clearly using outdated versions and critiques of standards in the case of ISPO, referring to Indonesian laws that were passed in October last year as proposed legislation, and misunderstandings around certification and accreditation requirements in Indonesia. 

This further underlines that the point of the Greenpeace report was not to present factual information, but to lobby politicians by any means it sees fit, with little regard for evidence. No one who has observed Greenpeace’s form in the past would be surprised by this.

Members of the palm oil community in Indonesia and elsewhere have worked hard for more than two decades on the certifications and standards that have made palm oil more sustainable. Likewise, the government officials that have worked to put stronger regulations in place on forest development in Southeast Asia have done so with a great deal of commitment to sustainability. These people supported Greenpeace’s initiatives within RSPO to introduce no deforestation policies across the board. These are the people with the technical knowledge about forests, palm oil and Southeast Asia – people you need on your side when talking about sustainability.

And Greenpeace just alienated every single one of them.

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