The 2019 Annual Communication of Progress (ACOP) showed encouraging response rates from RSPO members with several new highs achieved. RSPO Data Scientist, HS Yen, shared the latest data recently and was pleased to announce that despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the submission of ACOP reports from Ordinary and Affiliate members reached a new high of 93%!
ACOP, which is the annual reporting of RSPO members to demonstrate the progress towards producing, consuming or supporting sustainable palm oil is mandatory for Ordinary and Affiliate members once they have completed one full year of membership, and voluntary for Supply Chain Associates. Over the years, this public-facing document has moved from just capturing volumes to including Time-Bound Plans (of working towards producing or buying 100% certified sustainable palm oil), use of the RSPO Trademark, and Shared Responsibility indicators.
“ACOP has certainly grown in scope since it started in 2009. This year, together with a subgroup of the Board of Governors (BoG), we have streamlined ACOP to optimise our data collection systems at the RSPO,” explained HS.
“It is no doubt that we have made great strides in terms of the content and accuracy of ACOP since 2018. We are focusing on gathering the necessary data that we need, not just to narrate on the progress of certified volumes, but also the role that those certified volumes play in the larger picture of palm oil,” he added.
During the official submission period, which ran from 2 March to 5 June, a total of 1,370 reports were received, constituting 83.5%. This is a new high, against 81.2% in the previous year. The late submission period started three weeks later on 29 June. This is a chance for members who are at risk of having their membership suspended, terminated, or receiving a first-time warning, to submit their ACOP reports. Through the late submissions, an additional 159 reports were received, which raised the total response rate to 93.2%. Additionally, we received a fair amount of voluntary submissions, mainly from supply chain associates, totalling 522.
Submissions from our consumer goods manufacturer and grower members also reached a new high of 98% and 96% respectively. Members from social non-governmental organisations (NGOs), and banks and investors, maintained their 100% response rate, similar to the previous year. Submissions from other sectors were equally encouraging – processors and traders (89%), retailers (94%), and environmental NGOs (97%). Submissions from Affiliates members reached 84%.
Besides that, independent smallholders also achieved almost 100% submission rate during the official submission period, with only one late submission. To assist them to provide more accurate data, the smallholders section of 2019 ACOP was translated to Bahasa Indonesia, Thai, French, and Spanish.
“RSPO membership has almost doubled since 2014 and ACOP response rate has not only kept up with that, we have actually exceeded the previous baseline,” said HS. “From 2014 to 2016, the baseline response rate covered just below 70%, and since 2018 (for 2017 reporting) we managed to bring that up to 80%. In ACOP 2019, we hit a new peak with a 83.5% response rate for the official submission period, and 93.2% for both official and late submission periods,” he explained further.
This year, the ACOP team has instituted an expanded verification system where each report is now verified individually as it comes in, against audit data and previous ACOP data, which helps reduce discrepancy. HS said that about 70% of this year’s ACOP reports contained some form of error, and his team has reached out to the members to have these corrected. “Through this education process, we hope that the number of discrepancies and errors can be reduced in future submissions,” he said.
As members are aware, RSPO imposes sanctions on Ordinary and Affiliate members who failed to submit ACOP after completing a full year of membership. For the first year of non-submission, members will receive a first-time warning. A suspension follows if the members failed to submit the report for the second consecutive year, while for the third consecutive year of non-submission, they will be terminated. This year, the provisional ACOP 2019 sanctions list at the end of the official submission period was 277 members, and following the closure of the late submission period, it was brought down to 108 members, comprising 89 members who received first-time warning, 17 suspensions, and two terminations.
Other highlights of the 2019 ACOP include the total production of certified sustainable palm oil by RSPO members, which reached nearly 13 million tonnes in 2019, representing 17% of the total global palm oil production. Furthermore, uptake by supply chain actors remains encouraging, with certified volumes reaching over 50% and 80% for RSPO’s consumer goods manufacturer and retailer members respectively. Besides that, RSPO’s certified palm oil market penetration is highest in Europe and North America, and we are also observing growth in emerging markets, such as India and China (from a low base).