Food and drinks giant Nestlé was suspended from the world’s largest association for ethical palm oil production late last month and can no longer use the group’s stamp of approval to claim its products are sustainable.
The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) has come under frequent criticism for giving its members who violate sustainability rules a pass, but suspended Nestlé for “breaches of the RSPO statues and code of conduct for members.”
The RSPO was established by environmental groups and industry representatives in 2004 in an attempt to push back against destructive practices by oil palm growers, such as deforestation and land grabbing.
But some environmental groups, such as Greenpeace, say the suspension of Nestlé does little to allay wider concerns in the sector.
“You’d expect us to support action like this. but you have to put it in context,” said Sol Gosetti, a Greenpeace spokesperson. “RSPO has repeatedly ignored deforestation and human rights abuses by its members, including sustained destruction of primary forest.”
Companies are increasingly aware that RSPO, in its current form, is not providing them with deforestation-free palm oil. This is an existential threat to RSPO’s future.
Robin Averbeck, Rainforest Action Network
“In the past year alone, Greenpeace has raised at least five cases with RSPO and got nowhere. Then suddenly they decide to suspend Nestlé for procedural violations. Obviously, we want RSPO to enforce its rules but that has to start with growers that destroy forests and abuse people.”
The RSPO said Nestlé’s suspension was due to its failure to submit a 2016 progress report and for submitting an incomplete report in 2017. “Nestlé was given the opportunity to complete its report for 2017 through active engagement, and has declined to submit a time-bound plan,” the RSPO said in a statement.
It went on to state that Nestlé had also failed to pay its membership fees to the tune of 2,000 euros (about $2,350).
While Greenpeace and others have previously condemned Nestlé for its practices, Gosetti said repeated attempts to raise cases of abuse by RSPO members, including Nestlé, had gone unpunished.
Members of the RSPO board members have also been accused of breaching the body’s code of conduct without being suspended.
“As it stands, buying more RSPO isn’t going to help you get a clean supply chain, especially as RSPO members are still destroying rainforests. Nestlé definitely needs to do more to implement its ‘no deforestation’ policy. It recently cut off ten problematic producers, but this isn’t a robust approach, it’s playing whack-a-mole,” Gosetti said.
“All brands need to take responsibility for knowing who produces their palm oil and making sure those producers are not destroying rainforest. This starts with demanding concession maps so producers can be monitored properly.”
The RSPO points to instances where members have been suspended for violations, although the number of enforcement decisions have been relatively low. It says such decisions are not taken lightly as it removes the opportunity for further “engagement” with a company.
Robin Averbeck, agribusiness campaign director at the Rainforest Action Network, said Nestle’s suspension was “far from the most critical tests facing the RSPO right now.”
“The RSPO urgently needs to enforce its standard and require responsible production practices from palm oil growers,” she said in a statement. “For two years, the RSPO has failed to suspend its member Indofood while the company has continuously violated workers rights, the RSPO standard, and Indonesian law.”
“A one-off action to suspend to Nestlé for failing to report cannot be taken too seriously when the RSPO, at the same time, allows Indofood to continue selling certified ‘sustainable’ palm oil produced by children, unpaid women, and exploited workers.”
Gosetti said the RSPO was likely motivated by pressure from NGOs and some companies over its poor image and wanted to make an example out of Nestlé.
“Companies are increasingly aware that RSPO, in its current form is not providing them with deforestation-free palm oil. This is an existential threat to RSPO’s future. Nestlé decided a few years ago not to waste time going down the RSPO route. RSPO is clearly terrified of that feeling spreading. So it’s trying to make an example out of Nestlé,” she said.
This story was published with permission from Mongabay.com
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