Musim Mas, a Singapore company responsible for 18% of the trade in palm oil, has announced a No Deforestation, No Peatland, No Exploitation policy. This, according to one article, means that 96% of the global palm oil trade is now covered by zero deforestation agreements.
2014 has been a big year on all sides of the industry and RT12 was the second major palm oil conference in as many months where sustainability was the watchword. One journalist told me that the number of attendees had doubled since RT11.
The big announcement of the conference itself was the decision to expel members who failed to live up to their commitments. RSPO has long been criticised by some NGOs for not making compliance a condition of membership. But last month the chair of RT12 announced that members who have failed in their annual reporting requirements for the last three years would be expelled at the end of the year.
This has been welcomed by many members. Adam Harrison from WWF said: “This is a sign that RSPO has finally lost patience with those members who have been bringing the organisation into disrepute by failing to make commitments, never mind keeping them.”
One of the more heated questions addressed at the conference concerned traceability vs sustainability. It would seem that without the first it would be difficult to have the second, but the debate asked whether traceability would become a form of greenwashing at the expense of action on sustainability.
All in all it was a fascinating three days. There are disagreements between various NGOs - including the ongoing question about what constitutes High Carbon Stock forest – but progress is clearly being made in the journey towards what was the commonly used phrase of the conference: 100% sustainable palm oil.
The question now is whether any of this is going to filter out to the general public. While sitting at the conference I was following the RSPO twitter feed and the #palmoil tweets from other delegates around me. Mixed in with sensible tweets from inside the conference (asking for ‘improved connections between certifications’ and ‘using the UN as a ‘platform to engage with governments’), was the usual #palmoil chatter from outside:
“Is palm oil explosion driving ebola outbreak?”
“I really hope companies phase it out of their products, sustainable or not…”
"It’s not like palm oil has to feed the world!”
And this is one of palm oil’s most pressing problems: it does have to feed the world. And palm oil’s role in feeding the world will only become more important as the global population increases, but for all the excellent work being done by the various organisations at RT12, the most vocal debate is still of the type which equates palm oil with ebola.
All of the talks from RT12 can be found at rspo.org.