The question of whether the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) is needed in the landscape of national standards being introduced may indeed be a likely first thought. The RSPO welcomes diverse opinions and perspectives, no matter how far reaching and incongruous it may seem. The essence of discourse is that it brings forth at most times, an eventual harmonisation. And other times, a bearing to remain where one started off.

Chronologically speaking, the RSPO was established long before the pressure from non-governmental organisations (NGO). It was conceived and established by visionary individuals representing various sectors.

It is indeed technically correct to say that the RSPO was not established simply to represent the growers. The reason why RSPO was formed in 2004 was precisely to obtain the support of all stakeholders in the industry. What good would it bring if we simply focused on motivating growers to toil towards certification, if we are unable to bring other stakeholders within this complex supply chain to commit on their end towards positive uptake of the CSPO (certified sustainable palm oil)?

There were many questions raised within this article by P. Gunasegaram that the RSPO views as an accountability to respond to, one at a time.

“How does one ensure that all production going into a mill or a refinery is from certified sources ”: There are two stages of certification; first covers mills and plantations (supply base); second stage is when the CSPO that is produced by the mills are transported and processed by the refineries covered by our supply chain certification. At end product level, this is supported by our trademark; so consumers are aware of products are using palm oil that is sustainable sourced.

Currently, we are almost about to achieve 1 million hectares of certified sustainable oil palm plantations. Without a doubt, the tribute should go to our RSPO grower members around the world. CSPO is currently at 4.9 million tonnes, almost 10% of global production of crude palm oil. The figure is rapidly increasing.

“If supply is contaminated with a bit of uncertified oil palm or palm oil, does the entire batch become uncertified?: Notwithstanding the gravity of the term contamination', this in the case of CSPO does not come into context anyway. One of our supply chain systems allow for mixing of certified with non-certified palm oil, within one of the supply chain mechanisms called mass balance, to accommodate end users' requirements. It's an acceptable option and standard industry practice.

“And who are the people who certify the oil?”: RSPO is a standard setting body and a certification scheme operator. Under our scheme, qualified certifying bodies (including Sirim among others) are appointed to audit and certify the mills and plantations as well as supply chain. The certifying bodies are now monitored by an international accreditation agency.

Can growers expect their views to be well represented under such circumstances?: Operating on a multi stakeholder platform, decisions within the RSPO (including the executive board) are made through consensus, which accentuates that any stakeholder group regardless of the size of their representation has a right to veto or object to any proposals.

It may not be reasonable to view the other six stakeholder groups as one entity against the growers, as implied in the article. Every stakeholder group work within their own premise by bringing up the challenges faced to come up with mutually beneficial decisions.

Even so, the RSPO continues to remain open and accessible to any feedback that demonstrates and substantiates the fact that any stakeholder was not given a fair and equal opportunity to have their concerns raised.

On the matter of composition of grower companies represented in the RSPO and its inadequacy reflected in the article; from a country perspective, Malaysia and Indonesia account for approximately 37% of total membership, while Europe currently tallies at 57%. It might be worth to note here that Europe in the context of our membership covers 20 countries. Europe currently makes up the largest consumer market for CSPO. Independent of any complex arithmetic, a strategic and rationale way of perceiving this would be the fact that having a strong representation of members from consumer markets within the RSPO, can only serve as an advantage to growers in the creation of commitment and demand.

It may helpful to note that with regards to the “perceived limited number of grower members in the RSPO” reflected in the article, the number of growers around the world is bound by geographical limitations (climate dictated). On the other hand, companies involved in downstream processing are not bound by climate or such influences, and hence can be unlimited and can be ubiquitous in any part of the world. So it's understandable that the processors and traders outnumber growers, not just within the RSPO but within the industry at large. And in fact, this too serves the advantage of growers as they further mobilise and strengthen the supply chain advancement.

The fact that the current secretary general is from WWF, is indeed a reality. Out of over 40 candidates from around the world who were shortlisted for the role of secretary-general of the RSPO, as a result of announcements in the international sphere including The Economist's Darrel Webber, was finally appointed by the executive board.

Among others, Webber's NGO credentials were perceived by the board as tremendous value as it stamps the significance of commitment to protect people and the planet.Webber also brings combined experience with a multinational organisation within the oil and gas sector in understanding the future trends of utilisation of plant sources for the energy sector; and his previous capacity with a leading producer of sustainable palm oil allows for comprehension of the challenges and complexities by growers in embracing sustainable standards. While the task ahead continues to be challenging, his representation of all stakeholder groups is as all-embracing as it needs to be.

In conclusion, the RSPO highly acknowledges and commends the achievements demonstrated by grower members who have undertaken the journey of certification. Much has been achieved. And much will continue to be delivered. Be it with the RSPO, national standards, or any other endeavour, the goal of certified sustainable palm oil is pivotal in conserving the welfare of nations, businesses, people and our dwelling.

The market demands for credible and robust standards. While the establishment of the RSPO is yet to completely address all the issues faced within the palm oil sector, it certainly has come a long way in inspiring change and innovation. RSPO leaves the future to the market to decide and dictate and till then, remains steadfast and resolute in its values towards its vision.

Source: The Star Online

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