The RSPO (Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil) provides three different options for companies looking to gain certification for the palm oil they use. The GreenPalm system, also known as book and trade, allows RSPO-certified growers to trade their palm oil for GreenPalm certificates, which are then sold at a premium price, and that premium is reinvested in their move toward a fully sustainable supply.
Other RSPO systems of certification are available (see factbox), including fully segregated palm oil – and each allows buyers to claim a certain level of support on finished products.
“We want to have faith in the RSPO,” said Lorinda Jane, founder of Palm Oil Investigations, a volunteer organisation that aims to highlight Australian grocery products that contain unsustainably produced palm oil.
“But you do have a faith problem,” manager of the organisation, Michelle Nicol, told the RSPO.
“What’s happening here is that companies are not wanting to switch over from GreenPalm,” Jane said. “...Consumers are confusing that name with an environmentally friendly palm oil – and it’s not.”
Robert Hii, outreach manager from US-based Palm Oil Consumers Action, said: “What we are obviously seeing here is companies wanting to hold onto their profits.
“…GreenPalm should not be used in developed markets like the US, Australia or Europe. The supply chain is there. This is why we are so upset with the brands – the supply chain is ready.”
So where’s the demand?
Hii, Nicol and Jane were joined by RSPO secretary general Darrel Webber via live video link. All agreed that there seemed to be a problem with getting certified palm oil onto the market, with just over 50% uptake of certified oil last year.
“This goes to the crux of the conundrum,” Webber said, adding that other countries could learn from the Netherlands on driving uptake of sustainable oil.
He said that the Netherlands has been the most successful country in the world in increasing uptake, doubling its use of certified palm oil within the past year. There, Dutch companies, have worked together to align their demand and spur supply, rather than acting individually.
“More collaboration is needed among market players,” he said. “…The Netherlands seems to be able to crack this issue of supply and logistics.”
Jane agreed that this may be a good way forward for other countries, and added: “I think we all understand the issue of supply and demand…But we need to put pressure on manufacturers to stop brainwashing the public.”
The NGOs also urged the RSPO to become tougher with its members, some of which have been accused of illegal deforestation, among other actions not allowed under RSPO standards. Two producers have had their membership terminated under the organisation’s complaints procedure.
“The fact that there are complaints shows in a way that the RSPO works,” Webber said. “As an RSPO member, you are more visible.”
However, Nicol added that some companies still refused to name their palm oil suppliers.
“If companies are resistant to telling consumers where their palm oil comes from, it doesn’t help their credibility or the credibility of the RSPO,” she said.