Many palm oil companies that promise to act sustainably have failed to do so, and so continue to destroy rainforests and displace local communities, according to a new study.
Conflict or Consent? The oil palm sector at a crossroads, by various human rights and environmental charities, says 16 palm oil firms that signed up to the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) have failed to comply with the environmental and social standards required.
According to the investigation, companies have been unsuccessful in getting permission from local communities before starting production. Palm oil production is still causing massive deforestation and community displacement in parts of south-east Asia and Africa.
Marcus Colchester, senior policy adviser at the Forest Peoples Programme, said, “Underlying this failure of ‘voluntary best practice’ are national laws and policies which deny or ignore indigenous peoples’ and communities’ land rights.
“In their rush to encourage investment and exports, governments are trampling their own citizens’ rights. Global investors, retailers, manufacturers and traders must insist on dealing in conflict-free palm oil, and national governments must up their game and respect communities’ rights.”
Palm plantations have also negatively affected wildlife – particularly primates – in rainforests to allow the production of oil, largely used in the food and cosmetic industry.
The RSPO was created in 2004 in order to certify companies that produce palm oil respecting the environment and indigenous.
“Since its founding the RSPO has adopted good standards, but too many member companies are not delivering on these paper promises”, aid Norman Jiwan, director of Jakarta-based human rights group Transformasi Untuk Keadilan Indonesia.
“The RSPO could still meet this challenge if it provides remedies for member companies’ impacts on communities, but for that we need much stricter enforcement. The organisation’s very credibility is at stake.”
Responding to the criticism, the RSPO said, “Making the palm oil market fully sustainable is possible but only over time, and with the right levels of commitment. The RSPO depends on the goodwill of companies on the ground, and local government authorities, to ensure that these principles and criteria are abided to. There have been a number of cases of non-compliant members.”