RSPO Next draws mixed reactions over environmental stance

By Niamh Michail

- Last updated on GMT

'RSPO NEXT is an important milestone and can become a new industry benchmark for others who are working hard towards our common goal of 100% certified sustainable palm oil,' said Datuk Darrel Webber, CEO of RSPO. © iStock
'RSPO NEXT is an important milestone and can become a new industry benchmark for others who are working hard towards our common goal of 100% certified sustainable palm oil,' said Datuk Darrel Webber, CEO of RSPO. © iStock

Related tags Palm oil Oil palm Rspo

The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil's RSPO Next allows manufacturers to demonstrate a tougher stance on deforestation, forest fires and peatland clearance – but it has been slammed by Greenpeace which says many progressive companies and governments have already gone further.

RSPO Next is a set of voluntary commitments​ that members can sign up to in order to make greater commitments against issues such as deforestation, peatland clearance and the misuse of fires on oil palm plantations linked to massive forest fires in Indonesia.

Launched yesterday, the scheme will not create a new physical supply chain but will allow members to buy credits - one credit represents one million tonnes of RSPO NEXT-verified sustainable palm oil or palm kernel. After a technical roll-out phase, the first products containing RSPO Next palm oil are expected to be available in the third quarter of this year.

Member companies that source 100% certified palm oil from any of the four supply chain systems - book & claim, mass balance, segregated or identity preserved – of which at least 20% is Next-verified oil can claim to source RSPO Next.

RSPO Next at a glance

Deforestation: ​New plantations can only be grown in areas with low carbon stocks and areas must be set aside for conservation.

Forest fires: ​While previous criteria included a simple ban on the use of fires except as a last case resort, Next growers must also have plans to prevent, monitor and combat fire on and around plantations.

Peatland: ​Growers must not plant on peatland.

Greenhouse gases (GHGs): ​GHGs must be monitored, managed and reduced across the whole organisation and publically reported.

Labour rights: ​Members must negotiate a compensation package for workers in countries where there is no defined decent living wage.

Pesticides: ​Paraquet, linked with Parkinson’s and banned in the EU, is not permitted.

Meeting market demand

RSPO has been under pressure to develop a stricter stance on environmental issues as as several member companies, such as Mondelez and Danone, announced they were sourcing palm oil using criteria that go above and beyond RSPO standards.

European director of outreach and engagement, Danielle Morley, told FoodNavigator that since the scheme is a response to growing market demands, she expected a good uptake from both growers and manufacturers especially in Latin America, Malaysia and Indonesia.

The initiative drew praise from Unilever, which called it an important development.

“[This] new standard integrates the best practices embodied in the RSPO principles with the level of ambition demonstrated by leading company approaches – working towards stronger commitments on no deforestation and responsible new developments. It would also reduce costs for all stakeholders by using the same supply chain controls and systems that are already an established part of RSPO certification."

Asian palm oil giant Wilmar said it would review RSPO Next standards -  and market conditions  - before deciding whether to sign up. “That said (…) these are similar to Wilmar’s no deforestation, no peat and no exploitation policy which we adopted in December 2013 that is applicable to our entire supply chain, including subsidiaries, joint ventures regardless of stake and third-party suppliers. We are already actively pursuing RSPO certification for our own mills and plantations, with over 80% of our planted area already certified; coupled with the practices of these additional RSPO Next components as required by our own Integrated Policy,” ​read a statement by the company.

‘A failed upgrade’

But the scheme was slammed by Greenpeace as “a failed upgrade”​.

Indonesia forest campaigner Ratri Kusumohartono called RSPO Next a weak and purely optional standard.“The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil is struggling to respond to criticism that it fails to provide an answer to continuing forest destruction for palm oil. It seems the RSPO has recognised the urgent need for the sort of commitments made by the Palm Oil Innovation Group (POIG). Sadly, instead of adopting the POIG charter​ wholesale, it has created a weak new standard and made it purely optional for RSPO membership.”

POIG members include Danone, Ferrero and Unilever.

Greenpeace’s main criticisms stem from RSPO’s definition of ‘no deforestation’ which is based on a net carbon approach. According to the NGO, this means companies are free to clear forests as long as they

palm oil snip

compensate with carbon stored elsewhere in their palm plantations.

Regarding peatland, Kusumohartono said that instead of setting the bar high on environmental standards, the RSPO was playing "catch-up"​ with Indonesian regulations, which already ban new peat clearance and also require companies to restore and re-wet burnt peatlands.

“However, we are encouraged by the RSPO Next requirement that member companies enforce its guidelines at an organization-wide level, as this encourages greater responsibility across the supply chain,” s​he said.

RSPO defended the fact that the scheme is voluntary, saying it was part of its inclusive approach that  allows companies of varying degrees of capabilities  to participate in creating a sustainable supply chain. Making RSPO NEXT compulsory would exclude those companies who are not yet able to implement these advanced criteria from the entire RSPO certification scheme.”

Morley said RSPO would communicate on its social media channels as and when member companies sign up to NEXT.

According to RSPO figures, more than 2500 companies are members and around 20% of palm oil produced worldwide is RSPO-certified.

RSPO Next was developed in consultation with members with a sixty-day consultation period during which RSPO received several hundred comments from both the public and stakeholders. For a full set of RSPO Next criteria and eligibility see here​.

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