NGOs publish best practice guide on transparency in palm oil supply chain

By Niamh Michail contact

- Last updated on GMT

Can a best practice guide on palm oil production really make changes in the industry? © iStock
Can a best practice guide on palm oil production really make changes in the industry? © iStock
Environmental and scientific organisations, including Ceres and Oxfam, have published a best practice guidance on how to improve transparency in the palm oil supply chain.

The report recommends that companies continue disclosing their practices through existing platforms, such as the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) or the Roundtable of Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO).

Collaboratively developed by Oxfam, Rainforest Alliance, CDP, Rainforest Action Network and the Union of Concerned Scientists, with Ceres as the overarching coordinating body, the guidance document offers tailored recommendations​ for each actor in the palm oil supply chain, from growers, processors and traders to manufacturers and retailers.

It covers issues such as transparency in the supply chain, effective grievance processes, forced labour, smallholder engagement and responsible land expansion.

For instance, for greater supply chain transparency the guidance recommends reporting the total area of the company’s oil-palm landbank, and breaking this down even further by landtype, such as conservation set asides, developed, undeveloped or new planting planned.

Firms should list all third-party verification systems they use or plans to use, and provide a percentage breakdown of how much palm oil is certified and by whom.

Manufacturers should report the names of all direct palm oil suppliers, and disclose the percent of supply from growing, processing and trading suppliers that report on human and labour rights, land acquisitions and grievances.

Clarity and consistency

But will more voluntary guidelines really make a difference to the palm oil supply chain?

“No single standard or effort will change the palm oil sector alone.  Voluntary corporate commitments, along with certification, are playing a role in improving conditions on the ground,” ​senior associate for sustainable agriculture at Ceres Noah Klein-Markman told FoodNavigator.

“But as deforestation and exploitation continues, it’s clear that there is a lot more work to be done. This guidance aims to fill a specific gap by improving the quality of corporate disclosures, and thus the depth of dialogue and due diligence between companies and all of their stakeholders regarding implementation​.”  

“Rather than creating a formal reporting standard where companies ‘sign-up’, this guidance recommends specific disclosures companies can make to demonstrate implementation,”​ Klein-Markman added. “The 20 groups that developed the guidance felt that doing so together - rather than proliferating diverse information requests - would provide more clarity and consistency for companies.”

Fiona Wheatley, sustainable business manager at Marks and Spencer, UK private label retailer said the guidance document would help companies report about palm oil in their supply chain in a way that “meaningful and material​” to a wide range of stakeholders.

Aditi Sen, a senior policy advisor for Oxfam said companies had an obligation and an opportunity to address these issues. "Corporate actions and commitments must go hand in hand with meaningful transparency in order to facilitate implementation,”​ she added.

The guidance document can be downloaded here​.

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