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Green groups slam RSPO restoration of IOI's certification

The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil has lifted Malaysian palm oil giant IOI Group's suspension from RSPO certification, but green groups have called this move “risky and counter-productive” and “naive in the extreme”.

The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) on Friday announced that it has lifted its four-month long suspension of the IOI Group’s certification, a decision that environmentalists have slammed as premature and risky.

The industry association for sustainable palm oil said in a statement that its Complaints Panel was satisfied that IOI Group had met the conditions necessary to end the suspension from August 8 onwards.

The Malaysian palm oil giant, which is a founding member of RSPO, can once again sell its palm oil as certified sustainable. 

RSPO based its decision on several documents and work-plans that IOI in recent months submitted to RSPO and Aidenvironment—the Dutch non-profit which filed the complaint against three IOI subsidiaries in Indonesia last April. 

The companies—PT Sukses Karya Sawit, PT Berkat Nabati Sawit, and PT Bumi Sawit Sejahtera—were accused of planting new crops without the required advance notice or proper permits; clearing peatland and areas with a high conservation value; and failing to have a time-bound plan to become fully compliant with RSPO’s sustainability standards and principles. 

Failure to rectify these issues for a year prompted RSPO to suspend IOI’s ceritification in late March this year. 

Since then, IOI has submitted plans to address the legal and environmental issues facing its subsidiaries, rehabilitate damaged peat and high conservation areas, and make the plantation boundaries of the companies available for external monitoring, among other measures.  

Aidenvironment, in a joint statement issued with IOI on July 28, noted that the two organisations have made “significant progress” on resolving the complaint.  

Both RSPO and Aidenvironment cautioned that they would closely monitor IOI’s progress in delivering the plans, and will hire an independent team of experts to do so. If the team finds significant failures in IOI’s implementation efforts, the suspension will be re-imposed with immediate effect.    

Regardless of the RSPO decision, the fact remains that IOI has yet to regain the trust of the market place.

Deborah Lapidus, campaign director, Center for International Policy

Environmental observers, however, said that RSPO should have waited to see actual results before lifting the suspension in the first place.  

Deborah Lapidus, campaigns director at the Washington-based Centre for International Policy (CIP), said in a statement: “It is naive in the extreme to trust a company that has broken virtually every commitment it has made and been suspended by RSPO twice until it delivers lasting change on the ground”.  

Annisa Rahmawati, forest campaigner, Greenpeace Indonesia, added that RSPO’s move is “risky and counter-productive”, and that it sends a message that the association is more concerned about helping IOI regain customers than ensuring its standards are upheld.  

RSPO’s decision to suspend IOI’s membership prompted many of its buyers including food and beverage giants Unilever, Kellogg’s and Mars; and palm oil giant Cargill to drop IOI has a supplier, and the company in May sued RSPO because of this. It dropped the lawsuit a month later, after non-government organisations called for a mass boycott of the company. 

Rahmawati continued that “buyer companies should not make the same terrible mistake as RSPO, but instead hold out for verified action from this industry laggard before resuming trade”.

Unilever noted in a statement that it was looking into RSPO’s decision, and would decide on this matter in the coming days. Cargill, meanwhile, told Eco-Business that it “remains committed to our decision to suspend business with IOI Group”. The company added that it would review IOI’s sustainability policy and implementation plan before taking further action.  

CIP’s Lapidus noted that “regardless of the RSPO decision, the fact remains that IOI has yet to regain the trust of the market place”. 

The companies who have cut ties with IOI “know IOI poses too big a threat to the credibility of their responsible sourcing commitments and their reputations to re-engage too soon,” she added.  

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