On 16 November 2015, the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), a not-for-profit organisation based in the UK, published a report titled “Who watches the watchmen? Auditors and the breakdown of oversight in the RSPO”.
The report questions the ability of RSPO’s auditors of certifying the correct application of RSPO’s principles and criteria by palm oil growers, to protect primary forests and other High-Conservation Value areas, and prevent land-grabbing and other abuses against local communities and palm oil workers. The conclusions of the report are based on nine case studies.
RSPO reaffirms its commitment to transparency and open dialogue with all stakeholders willing to address the sustainability challenges of palm oil production. It takes very seriously the claims contained in the EIA report, and welcomes it as an opportunity for intensifying this dialogue, and further improve its certification system.
RSPO is working with its third-party oversight body, Accreditation Service International (ASI), to review the case studies analysed by EIA. As explained in a recent ASI statement, of the nine case studies, two relate to a certification body whose accreditation for the RSPO program has been terminated (since 2014), one has already been investigated by ASI and one is currently under assessment by ASI. All other cases have already been logged and will be accounted for in ASI’s 2016 assessment planning.
Currently, the RSPO has 57 certified grower members, accounting for a total certified production area of 2,656,894 ha. There are 22 approved certification bodies working with the RSPO worldwide. RSPO believes that the 9 case studies presented by EIA, however serious, cannot lead to a general dismissal of the RSPO certification system.
All RSPO Certification Bodies are accredited by ASI (you can find more information here). ASI provides independent third-party accreditation to the RSPO’s certification program and it conducts regular assessments of Certification Bodies, including both office and field witness verifications.
ASI will conduct a series of compliance assessments in 2016 and will work with RSPO and the Certification Bodies to improve the current system.
The RSPO will also be implementing an auditor registry in partnership with ASI to ensure better oversight of RSPO auditors, to be introduced in 2016.
The RSPO is also a full member of ISEAL, the global membership association for sustainability standards. This requires the RSPO to comply with ISEAL Codes which, among other requirements, include continuous improvement of auditing systems and constant training of CBs.
In response to the urgent and pressing global call for sustainably-produced palm oil, the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) was formed in 2004 with the objective of promoting the growth and use of sustainable oil palm products through credible global standards and engagement of stakeholders. The seat of the association is in Zurich, Switzerland, while the secretariat is currently based in Kuala Lumpur with satellite offices in Jakarta and London.
RSPO is a not-for-profit association that unites stakeholders from seven sectors of the palm oil industry – oil palm producers, palm oil processors or traders, consumer goods manufacturers, retailers, banks and investors, environmental or nature conservation NGOs and social or developmental NGOs – to develop and implement global standards for sustainable palm oil.
Such multi-stakeholder representation is mirrored in the governance structure of RSPO such that seats in the Executive Board and project-level Working Groups are fairly allocated to each sector. In this way, RSPO lives out the philosophy of the "roundtable" by giving equal rights to each stakeholder group to bring group-specific agendas to the roundtable, facilitating traditionally adversarial stakeholders and business competitors to work together towards a common objective and make decisions by consensus.
Contacts for RSPO Secretariat:
Global Outreach and Engagement Director