The Assurance Standing Committee (ASC) started the year productively with five virtual meetings held between February and May 2021.

When the ASC first convened on 9 February 2021, the new structure of the RSPO Assurance Division was presented. The division will now house four units, namely Compliance, which comprises Certification and Integrity; Risk, which transitions from the previous Investigation and Monitoring Unit (IMU); Grievance, which will manage the entire grievance system, including providing support to the Complaints Panel, as well as Impacts and Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning (MEL).

One topic that has received much attention throughout the first half of the year is the analysis of gap areas within the RSPO Assurance System. Following two ASC meetings and a dedicated workshop, valuable feedback was gathered by the Secretariat from members of the ASC to prepare a thorough analysis of the root causes of each key weakness that had been identified. An updated analysis will be presented during the Assurance Forum scheduled for 30 June 2021 to ensure all stakeholders are involved in the process of determining the best solutions to strengthen and future-proof the RSPO Assurance System.

Hotspot Hub debuts

Restrictions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic proved to be a challenge for piloting the Labour Auditing Guidance. However, the ASC remains committed and will continue to oversee its progress. One exciting new development in line with this progress is the RSPO Hotspot Hub, an interactive digital platform which helps combat forest fires that is set to launch in July 2021, coinciding with the Asia Pacific Climate Week 2021. The Hotspot Hub provides real-time information on potential fires within both RSPO certified and non-certified concessions as well as actions already taken by RSPO members to remedy the situation.

The ASC has also been working closely with Assurance Services International (ASI) to provide input on the development of a new ASI accreditation system for certification bodies. The new system is aimed at ensuring the credibility of auditors to improve the quality of audits for RSPO’s Certification.

During the committee’s meeting on 15 April 2021, the ASC was briefed on the current verification process for the RSPO Independent Smallholder (ISH) Standard, which combines desk and ground verifications to identify compliance with the applicability criteria. It was then agreed that the existing process will be retained without any additional risk assessment or verification. In the same meeting, the ASC and the Human Rights Working Group (HRWG) also reached a consensus for stronger collaboration. Henceforth, relevant updates from the HRWG will be shared regularly in ASC meetings.

Complaints Panel updates

Additionally, a second joint meeting between the ASC and the Complaints Panel (CP) was held on 5 May 2021. The CP was represented by its Co-Chairs, Dato’ Henry Barlow and Lim Sian Choo. During the meeting, the ASC was given an update on the CP’s work through the Complaints Desk and how the introduction of the Complaints and Appeals Procedure (CAP) in 2017 has contributed to the reduction of the average number of days taken to solve a case. The meeting also included a sharing session by an ASC member, Marcus Colchester from the Forest Peoples Programme, who spoke about the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGP), notably the ‘Respect, Defend, and Remedy' framework that mandates states to protect and respect human rights and provide solutions for violations. Whilst he agreed that a lot has been built into the Complaints and Appeals Procedure (CAP), he also emphasised that RSPO should focus on resolving the violations of its standards.

The next ASC meeting will follow up on previously discussed issues as well as other relevant matters that will assist the committee in achieving its mission of strengthening the credibility of the RSPO Assurance System.

To learn more about the Assurance Standing Committee, click here.

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