I attended World Vegan Day in Melbourne as a stall holder yesterday. This year, I represented Australian Orang-utan Project but still focused on palm oil as well as trying to raise a few dollars. This year, I talked a lot about RSPO.
Over the last two years, as people have started to become more aware, a lot of questions have been asked. Specifically questions about RSPO, who most companies will refer to when a consumer asks about a products palm oil content.
This has proven to be quite a confusing issue for everyone. So I did a little write up to start clearing up the confusion, which you can read below:
So you have heard about the palm oil issue and are understandably concerned. You have found out some of the names palm oil is hidden under and have discovered them in some of your favourite products. You have gone to the trouble to contact the company, which has responded with a long email echoing your concerns, giving you some palm oil facts and placating you by saying they only buy responsibly. They only buy from members of the RSPO. That sounds ok, right? They sound like they are doing the right thing...
So, just who are the RSPO and what are the issues?
The RSPO is made up of and chaired by, primarily, palm oil industry heads, investors, companies and a handful of NGOs such as WWF Indonesia. Application to join costs between $160-$3000, depending upon the nature of your business. There are three levels of membership, with the top level of membership open to those directly involved in the palm oil industry; including growers, traders, retailers, manufacturers, investors and environmental and social NGO’s. Only the top level members have the power to vote in general elections and the opportunity to get a representative on the board of directors. This all sounds reasonable; until you actually consider that the board of directors is stacked with those with a vested interest in maintaining high palm oil production.
Members must follow a code of conduct (and can be expelled from the RSPO if they fail to comply)and that is all they are required to do. But the code of conduct comprises nothing more than a few broad statements; it is not policed and RSPO has no power to do so.
You may have seen the recent video from Greenpeace, which centred on Nestle and their use of palm oil in goods such as Kit Kats. The company from which Nestle purchases their palm oil is PT Sinar Mas which is a member of the RSPO through two of its subsidiary companies. It is claimed that PT Sinar Mas is one of the worst offenders in primary rainforest destruction; which includes displacement of local people and the destruction of habitat and the deaths of many species found only in Indonesia and Malaysia. Nestle is just one of the huge number of companies to which PT Sinar Mas supplies palm oil.
When companies respond to your email that they buy from suppliers who are members of RSPO, that member could well be PT Sinar Mas.
Incidentally, in the last few days, the companies PT Sinar Mas owns have gone before the RSPO grievance panel. Outcome? An extra company membership for a start. And a "voluntary step down" from active role of the other two company membership holders, well until 31st March 2011.
So the punishment for wanton destruction of rainforest, murder of animal species, displacement of local people and "serious non-compliance" of RSPO code of conduct, is extra membership...
The mind boggles.