RSPO fires back at Greenpeace, calls report baseless

The trade organisation for palm oil sustainability denies the charges made by Greenpeace in its latest report, citing a discrepancy in the analysis due to the continuous use of wrong concession maps

Sustainable palm oil plantations
The Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil denies the allegations of Greenpeace's latest report and explains they are well equipped to monitor fire hotspots and establish sustainable palm oil industry. Image: Dr Asril Darussamin, RSPO

The Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) has dismissed the latest allegations of Greenpeace, noting inconsistencies in the report issued on Tuesday regarding the rampant deforestation due to palm oil malpractices in Indonesia. 

In an emailed statement to Eco-Business, the global palm oil sustainability organisation indicated that Greenpeace has been using the wrong concession maps for their analysis of fire hotspots, from the time of their first complaint earlier in the year up to this recent report called “Certifying Destruction”. 

The detailed report highlights RSPO’s failure to stop the illegal burning of high conservation and secondary forests in Indonesia. It also outlines their inability to provide a transparent palm oil supply chain, in which consumer products using palm oil are guaranteed to have been produced responsibly. 

According to the RSPO, they are reviewing the information presented in the investigative paper and they plan to issue an updated statement once it is finalised. They emphasised that they are monitoring the hotspots and that the organisation has a complaints system in place, probing into any purported violation. 

Currently, the Roundtable is the largest industry alliance for the development of sustainable palm oil. One of their standards for member firms is a strict zero-burning policy. 

The arduous and complex challenge of fully transforming an organisation to become 100 per cent committed to certified sustainable palm oil cannot be underestimated but it is possible over time and with the right levels of commitment from all parties involved

RSPO

But the Greenpeace account stated otherwise, asserting that about 39 per cent of fire hotspots on palm oil concessions in Riau were found to be in RSPO-member companies’ concessions – and that this may not be the exact number given the limited data due to a “lack of transparency in the sector”. 

According to RSPO, “there is a discrepancy between the hotspots analysis of the RSPO and Greenpeace because the concession maps provided by Greenpeace differed from the maps which should be the accurate base for reference, that of the maps containing the HGU boundaries or Business Use Rights.” 

“These maps are provided by the respective National Land Agency and spells out the exact concession area to be developed by companies,” explained RSPO. However, the maps are not publicly available and have to be sourced from the companies themselves. 

Back in June, they requested such concession maps from member firms implicated in the worst haze disaster to have affected neighbouring nations Singapore and Malaysia. Greenpeace had filed the complaint, naming Sime Darby, Kuala Lumpur Kepong, Golden Agri Resources, Tabung Haji Plantations, and PT Jatim Jaya Perkasa as the culprits, allegedly guilty of slash and burn activities, which is used to clear land for palm oil plantations. 

The sustainable palm oil body, in building its defence, had the maps analysed by the World Resources Institute (WRI) and Dr Khali Aziz Hamzah, a Geographic Information System (GIS) specialist and scientist from the Forest Research Institute Malaysia (FRIM). 

Darrel Webber, secretary general of RSPO and WRI, in a July statement, said: “Dr Hamzah overlaid concession boundaries provided by the companies with Active Fire Data from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) for the first to the 26th of June 2013. According to this analysis, all fire alerts in the company concessions listed lasted for less than 24 hours.” 

In their latest email reply, RSPO further clarified that those fires were only from three of the five blamed companies, and of those three, only PT Jatim Jaya Perkasa “has been escalated to a formal complaint case”. There was no indication of “systemic issues” or recurring incidences for the two companies with hotspots. Still, they are continuing to monitor this, RSPO stressed. 

Their analysis and fact-finding cleared four out of the five suspected of unsustainable practices, and with this, the Roundtable suggested Greenpeace should “refer back to the RSPO, who is also proactively tracking and monitoring the matter” before publishing any information. 

They also said that it had “advised Greenpeace several times on the use of incorrect reference maps and for stronger accountability towards reliable information in the public domain.” 

As for Greenpeace complaints of their inadequate standards or its weak enforcement, especially in sanctions and resolutions of complaints against members, the RSPO explained to Eco-Business the difficulty of addressing industry-wide issues: “The transition towards sustainable palm oil is attended by obstacles and challenges, like any other significant transformation. The arduous and complex challenge of fully transforming an organisation to become 100 per cent committed to certified sustainable palm oil cannot be underestimated but it is possible over time and with the right levels of commitment from all parties involved.

“With regards to the haze situation, any solution to mitigate or avoid fires on peat systems requires landscape level collaboration and management,” RSPO added.

The group also referred to a prior statement in July when they called on Greepeace, with their “considerable resources on the ground” to work together. They said, “Greenpeace and the RSPO can collaborate to address the issue at hand rather than using media sensationalism to address such a critical environmental dilemma.”

Greenpeace, in an email to Eco-Business, clarified their position on this palm oil debacle, stating that they are not calling for palm oil companies to quit the RSPO, but instead, they are urging firm to “go beyond the RSPO”.

The existence of RSPO has merit, they said. However, they cannot be fully relied on to certify palm oil sustainability. On the five investigated companies, the RSPO only reviewed these after media reports came out. They also failed to conduct a wider investigation and check other palm oil firms, said Greenpeace.

As for the use of the right maps that the RSPO is focusing on, Greenpeace International’s head of the Indonesia Forest Campaign Bustar Maitar said, “Lack of transparency, including from RSPO members, makes it difficult 
to establish precise concession boundaries and group-level ownership of concessions… While the RSPO claims these maps differ from Greenpeace’s, it has not yet publicly released these, which makes verification impossible. It would be in the interests of the industry and the people affected by the forest fires that the RSPO be a model of transparency.”

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