Big-name investors make joint call for stronger palm oil certification standards

More than 90 institutional investors representing more than $6.7trn in assets under management have jointly urged the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) to strengthen its draft certification standards before they are finalised in November.

In a letter sent earlier this month to the RSPO, the investment firms voiced concerns that the sustainable palm oil commitments being made by companies in their investment portfolios are going above and beyond the RSPO standard, evidencing a “disconnect” between policy and Roundtable desires to tackle deforestation.

The document, signed by companies such as Aviva Investors, Robeco and Hermes EOS, outlines a series of recommendations to help “bridge the gap” and make the RSPO standards more robust. The RSPO currently certifies around 19% of global palm oil production.

Recommendations include requiring certified palm oil to ensure “no deforestation, no peat and no exploitation”, banning palm projects that require planting and harvesting within high carbon stock forests, as well as a refusal to certify palm from schemes which use paraquat – a pesticide which has been linked to Parkinson’s disease.

The letter, coordinated by US-based environmental non-profit Ceres, states that while the signatories “strongly support” the RSPO’s mission, they are concerned that the RSPO’s “relevance and effectiveness” will be “significantly impaired” if their recommendations are not implemented in the updated standards.

Responding to the letter, the RSPO said it welcomed input from stakeholders on the upcoming update to its standards.

“The membership and the Principles & Criteria Taskforce of the RSPO aim to create a system that is feasible in field, equitable to all countries with palm oil industries, addresses the concerns of civil society and helps make sustainable palm oil the norm,” the RSPO said in a statement.

“To do that, we must collaborate with and gain consensus from our stakeholders, NGOs, growers, manufacturers and all others alike. In addition to reviewing the comments submitted related to our no deforestation standards, we are currently in active discussions with the High Carbon Stock Approach.”

Timely reminder

Palm oil is found in more than half of all supermarket products, from confectionary to cosmetics, but the commodity is linked to environmental destruction in global supply chains. Expanding palm oil and wood pulp plantations are the biggest drivers of deforestation in Indonesia and Malaysia, where many species including the orangutan are being threatened with extinction.

The letter to the RSPO comes at a time when pressure on the Roundtable to strengthen its guidelines is mounting. A recent report from the Changing Markets Foundation, for example, claimed that the organisation has “not put a stop to deforestation, peatland draining or human rights violations”.

The RSPO has attempted to steer its environmental standards to palm oil suppliers in the past. The IOI Group, for example, has committed to addressing deforestation issues that saw its contract suspended by Unilever, and has since been reinstated by the RSPO in August 2016, promising to deliver a “comprehensive plan of remediation”.

Sarah George

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