Every year on 8 March, we celebrate International Women’s Day to recognise the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women around the world. More importantly, this is a day to emphasise and spread awareness on the importance of women’s rights and gender equality. And this is the day to remind women that no hurdles can stop them from accomplishing their dreams. The theme for this year’s celebration is ‘Choose to Challenge’. A challenged world is an alert world. And from challenge comes change.

At RSPO we call on all stakeholders in the agricultural supply chains, including governments and civil society, to promote a zero-tolerance policy towards violations of women’s rights in all sectors, including oil palm.

Despite women’s significant contributions to the work and operations of oil palm plantations, the sector has long been male-dominated. As a globally recognised standard for sustainable palm oil production and procurement, RSPO plays a critical role in developing systems to protect the rights of workers. We have also built our Theory of Change (ToC) around the fundamental Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including Gender Equality, and our ToC drives our standards, procedures, and processes. However, we cannot transform an entire industry alone.

Women are often affected in different ways than men in the palm oil industry, and therefore women require different or additional employment support. The RSPO standards include recognition of women’s rights and needs as workers, which differ to their male counterparts.

Maternity protection, childcare and breastfeeding support, formal employment status, wider access to employee benefits, and job security, are among the common issues that need to be addressed in the industry.

The RSPO Principles and Criteria (P&C) takes a more inclusive approach that requires its members to develop systems that prevent sexual harassment and other potential harms that women are particularly vulnerable to at work. It also requires that women are given avenues to raise their grievances and have a say in how they can manage impacts on their daily work.

Criterion 6.1.5 of the 2018 RSPO P&C specifically mentions the importance of the establishment of a gender committee to raise awareness, identify and address issues of concern, as well as opportunities and improvements for women. The committee should consist of female and male worker representatives from all aspects of work to consider issues such as training for women’s rights, counselling for women involved in violence cases, and handling other issues of concern.

RSPO members have pledged to be transparent and accountable, and to go beyond what is required by local law. Despite criticism, the level of transparency that comes with our standards and systems has helped us to have more open conversations with important stakeholders including social NGOs and civil society on what is required to change the palm oil industry for the better. This led to significantly strengthened criteria for the protection of human rights in our 2018 RSPO P&C, but our work doesn’t stop there.

RSPO is continuously working on various initiatives to strengthen not just women's, but also labour and child rights protection, and to ensure compliance with our certification standards.

We have been working very hard in coming up with various guidances to provide greater context into specific topics, sectors, and issues. In the coming months, we expect to release a Gender Guidance to address the gender-based constraints of women in the whole palm oil sector and contribute to greater gender equality in the future. Practical strategies that can be used by RSPO members are presented in the guidance. This practical and intuitive guide describes the building blocks of a gender-inclusive business, embracing women’s economic empowerment.

We have also been working with social NGO partners to strengthen the knowledge and understanding of RSPO’s labour standards through capacity building workshops with RSPO accredited social auditors. This is to ensure more comprehensive results in the audits conducted.

Some people would say that standards alone are not the solution, and that sustainable palm oil doesn’t exist. However, we strongly believe that RSPO has the best systems to help eradicate these issues, and we will provide support to ensure continuous improvement. Each and every member and stakeholder has a role to play, and we urge them to work closely together to share the responsibility to deliver positive, long-term solutions to the challenges we still face today.

Find out more about RSPO’s initiatives in protecting women, child, and labour rights through our Human Rights and Social Standards unit webpage.

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