IOI damage raises questions about RSPO standards

By David Burrows

- Last updated on GMT

Greenpeace has alleged further palm oil supply chain abuse. IOI says it is putting its house in order. ©iStock
Greenpeace has alleged further palm oil supply chain abuse. IOI says it is putting its house in order. ©iStock

Related tags: Greenpeace, Ioi, Sustainable palm oil

The damage caused by IOI’s deforestation and peatland drainage is “far greater” than that detailed in the complaint that led to the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil suspending the supplier back in April, says Greenpeace.

The new evidence, published by Greenpeace International, raises questions about the RSPO’s standards – in particular those relating to the damage that plantations cause to peat. It isn’t the first time the RSPO’s standards have been criticised​ of late.

“The key issue for RSPO is whether it is concerned with demonstrating ‘tick box’ compliance with its principles and criteria, or if it actually wants to prevent further destruction to the landscape in which IOI’s concessions are located,”​ a spokesman for Greenpeace explained.

IOI said it is working on the issues Greenpeace has raised in its report​ and shared its own findings in two meetings with the NGO last month. “The discussion [at the second meeting] was about top level commitment to its sustainability practices and procedures and the new Sustainable Palm Oil Policy for IOI Group,”​ said head of sustainability Dr Surina Ismail.

IOI’s chief executive was present at that meeting, with the seriousness of the issue appearing to have hit home. “Clearly the loss of major contracts from Consumer Goods Forum members and traders such as Wilmar and Golden Agri Resources will be having a major impact on its bottom line,” ​said a Greenpeace spokesman.

Action on inaction?

IOI said it is in the process of meeting all the requirements set out by the RSPO. “Immediate actions”​ have also been taken to review and enhance sustainability practices.

However, it’s not yet clear whether IOI’s proposals, submitted as part of an action plan to have its suspension lifted, go far enough. Nestlé, as reported by FoodNavigator last month​, clearly doesn’t think they do. Greenpeace is of the same opinion.

The new plan “goes no further”​ than the company’s existing policy, and “even appears to water down its past commitments”.

Greenpeace informed the company that the proposal remains weak, with no credible timeline for implementation or measurable milestones,”​ the NGO noted.

Eric Wakker from AidEnvironment Asia, the consultancy that sent the complaint about IOI to the RSPO last year, said dialogue with the company is ongoing. “We're not there yet but we'll get there eventually​. Obviously this is also the time to put forth all possible innovations such as more comprehensive approaches to peatland protection and restoration."​ 

Peat planting ban

This is what Greenpeace is pushing for. A full ban on peat cultivation has been mooted, but there isn’t another review of the principles and criteria until 2018 – and even then all seven levels of stakeholders in the RSPO have to agree. There is a set of additional voluntary sustainability criteria, called RSPO Next, and these include an absolute ban on planting peat of any depth.

“We acknowledge that peat development, if conducted irresponsibly, can have dire consequences for the environment and that a number of sustainability leaders in palm oil production are now moving away from or completely stopped planting on peat,”​ said an RSPO spokeswoman.

She also confirmed that the RSPO, which met in Milan this week, is still “carefully reviewing”​ IOI’s action plan. Greenpeace warned that IOI was trying to “bully”​ its way back into the Roundtable with “empty promises”​.

Earlier this week, IOI dropped its legal action​ against the RSPO, a move that attracted widespread criticism from NGOs as well as Mondelez​. Reports also suggest that the company still feels its suspension is “unjustified”. “We felt like the naughty child in all this,”​ Ismail told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

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