Environmental group alleges Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil is ‘greenwashing’

Palm kernels at a plantation in IndonesiaPalm kernels at a plantation in Indonesia

The Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) alleged in a report published Sunday that the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RPSO) has continued to provide false environmental credibility to its members’ products, a practice called “greenwashing.”

RPSO said in a statement published on its website, “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,” RSPO added.

The allegations, published in a report on EIA’s website, include fraudulent auditing of oil palm plantations, felling of primary forests and violations of community land rights. The EIA also alleged RPSO hasn’t been following its own rules and it may collude with companies to hide violations.

“If the RSPO is not upholding any of its own rules and if its palm oil isn’t what it says it is on the tin, then that’s a major problem for the industry,” said Siobhan Pearce, a forests campaigner cited in the EIA statement.

“Consumers should also be worried because they’re buying this certified palm oil on the understanding that it does not cause harm to the environment, that it’s not destroying wildlife or forests and that it’s not exploiting local people,” Pearce added.

The EIA said it raised similar concerns in a 2015 report. In response to the 2015 report, RSPO had said it would be working to ensure better oversight of its auditors and improve its certification system; RSPO said at the time it created an assurance task force to address the issues in the 2015 report; the latest EIA report alleged the task force has been badly managed and “chronically” missed deadlines.

In RSPO’s statement Sunday, the organization said it has incorporated much of what was suggested in the 2015 report.

“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,” the statement Sunday said, pointing in particular to improvements in audits and certification training.

RSPO also denied it colluded with companies to hide violations of its standards, saying it has found complaints to be valid and has suspended or removed RSPO members that failed to remediate those violations.

“To suggest that the organisation is a failure is a misjustice,” the statement said. “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.”

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