Bangkok, 3 November 2019: The RSPO has always been committed to continuous improvement and self-reflection on what’s working and what’s not. We also realise that by being transparent, the organisation is an easy target for groups that are not actively trying to solve the problem, and instead, are trying to bring down those that are. Characterising an issue or a person in a negative way is a useful way to gain attention and to get a point across. We respect and understand this. RSPO, however, is an organisation that must remain transparent and present only the facts.

Since the first “Watch the Watchmen” report came out, the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) has evolved to incorporate much of what was suggested in the report. And while there are some failings as highlighted in the second report that the RSPO is continuously seeking to improve upon, there are also some glaring inaccuracies in this report. For example: 

  • Assurance Services International (ASI) instituted changes to manage and control audits including improvements in quality assurance, such as additional guidance on Free Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) during the New Planting Procedure (NPP), certification body training, and performance monitoring;

  • The last Assurance Task Force progress report (December 2018) identified that 55% of agreed actions were still outstanding. This was part of what has lead the RSPO to form the Assurance Standing Committee, as it was an issue we already identified and are working to address; 

  • At one point, Grassroots, an author of this report, was hired by the Assurance Task Force (ATF) as a consultant to design and deliver a Social, Environmental Impact Assessment (SEIA) module which they failed to deliver. In the end the ATF hired AideEnvironment to finish the report; 

  • The new Complaints and Appeals Procedure – a much improved and faster process – is only used for cases brought up after it was adopted. The legacy cases can use this process retroactively;

  • Releasing all of the Complaints Panel records is a reckless recommendation and could make complainants, whistleblowers and human rights defenders susceptible to retaliation; 

  • To suggest that the organisation is a failure is a misjustice. Before the RSPO, there was no Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil (MSPO) or Indonesian Sustainable Palm Oil (ISPO). There was no Palm Oil Innovation Group (POIG). The organisation exists because civil society and business came together to fill a void that was not being filled by others. And we would argue it is still the best system globally, despite the need for continuous improvement, to tackle the issues in the areas of the world where oil palm is grown;

  • To insinuate that droves of RSPO members withdraw from the organisation due to an ongoing complaint is false. There have been at most, two cases, and this issue is currently being addressed by a Resolution adopted by the membership in 2018.  The Resolution calls for RSPO to explore ways to discourage members subject to an active complaint from divesting or withdrawing, which in itself is groundbreaking for a voluntary membership organisation; and

  • To accuse the Investigation & Monitoring Unit (IMU) of not being transparent with investigating public domain cases and hotspot monitoring is nonsensical. The IMU works directly with the CEO with regard to membership violations, and in close collaboration with the Complaints Panel. This is squarely in line with the provisions outlined in the RSPO Statutes, according both entities the power to sanction members accordingly.  

  • The IMU has a robust hotspot monitoring and fire alert system, where 2 million ha of RSPO members area are tracked daily via satellite technology. In 2019, at the height of the fire season in South East Asia, the IMU detected 278 hotspots in RSPO members concessions out of the 73,508 total RSPO concessions in the area, comprising 0.4% from the total hotspots. Being a member of ISEAL, a global membership association for credible sustainability standards, RSPO is recognised to have the most comprehensive GIS technologies uptake among the members and ISEAL communities. To date, no other sustainability standard regulator uses extensive GIS technology to monitor geographic and environmental risks such as deforestation, extensive fire incident and illegal land clearing.

  • Despite the accusations in this report that the RSPO has actively colluded with companies to hide violations of the RSPO Standards, the RSPO Complaints Panel have investigated violations and complaints that they found to be valid. As a result, the RSPO has taken action by suspending or removing RSPO members that have not achieved remediation for their violations.

We have only just seen the report, on the eve of our annual conference that is largely focused on gathering stakeholders to continue improving the RSPO. Therefore, It may take a while for us to digest all of this report. In the meantime, our stakeholders can take comfort knowing that RSPO continues to be informed by scores of credible research organisations who conduct independent research on the impacts of RSPO. The RSPO continues to receive input and support from a wide range of  experts from leading civil society organisations and were recently featured as a solution for saving rainforests in Sir David Attenborough’s Seven Worlds, One Planet series on BBC.


For further information, please contact:  

Name: Dan Strechay 

Head of Communications                                 

T: + 1 973 809 8912

[email protected]

 Name: Sara Cowling

 Communications & Content Manager 

 T: +603 2302 1500

 [email protected]

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