RSPO votes to tighten checks

Members of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil passed a resolution to ramp up the quality and credibility of assessments on Thursday, shortly after a recent investigative report questioned the integrity of its certification.

Less than a week after the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) released a report slamming the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil’s (RSPO) certification process, the industry association on Thursday adopted a resolution to improve the quality, oversight and credibility of auditor assessments.

The new rule, known as resolution 6h, was voted in by 158 out of 209 RSPO members at its 12th annual general assembly at the Shangri-La hotel in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

It calls on the RSPO secretariat to develop clear and mandatory guidelines on the minimum acceptable quality of assessments to certify that land being cleared by companies for plantations does not have a high conservation value, and that the community has given its free, prior, and informed consent for development.

While these guidelines did not previously exist, RSPO said is currently working with German firm Accreditation Services International (ASI) to check the quality of its auditors. ASI also certifies auditors for global labels such as the Forest Stewardship Council and Marine Stewardship Council.

RSPO will also have to monitor the quality of assessments and auditors, and suspend underperforming firms.

Tomasz Johnson, forest campaigner, EIA, noted in a statement that “it is reassuring that most RSPO members have accepted the evidence presented in our report and have voted for this resolution.”

The report showcased nine case studies where auditors responsible for assuring RSPO that companies have met their principles and criteria for certifying sustainable palm oil have failed to spot violations such as labour abuses and violating community rights. In some cases, they even helped cover up these breaches, casting doubt on how reliable RSPO certification really is.

“The damage done by the absence of oversight in this system is extensive and serious,” said Johnson.

While he welcomed the resolution, he noted that “the extent to which this resolves the problems we have identified will only be clear when the recommendations are implemented.” 

“EIA will be closely monitoring progress in delivering the resolution.”

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