For over a decade the acronym RSPO – which stands for the less than linguistically nimble Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil – has been negatively and positively floating around the whole palm oil debate. Depending on where your radicalism on palm oil stands you either support it or scoff dismisively at the idea. Either way, RSPO exists, and for the time being it is the only hopeful tool for nudging the palm oil industry away from total carnage of the tropics and into some “sustainable” relationship that might preserve a fraction of Earth’s African and SE Asian tropical forest lungs.
I will be heading off to the annual meeting of RSPO members, which includes a wealth of large and small NGOs as well as the predicted oil palm companies, and a few consumer companies like Nestlé, McDonalds (yes, that McDonalds), Mitsubishi, Starbucks, Carrefour, Burger King, Kelloggs, etc.
All are at the RT13 meetings clinging to the pledge of RSPO,
“The Roundtable promotes palm oil production practices that help reduce deforestation, preserve biodiversity, and respect the liveli- hoods of rural communities in oil- producing countries. It ensures that no new primary forest or other high conservation value areas are sacrificed for palm oil plantations, that plantations apply accepted best practices and that the basic rights and living conditions of millions of plantation workers, smallholders and indigenous people are wholly respected.”
Despite the promise of sustainability, neither RSPO nor the industry has been able to deliver that reality to the roundtable, or your dinner table. Transparency is still unclear, and episodes like the fires in Indonesia these past few months have made the reality of sustainable transparency even hazier. As World Wildlife Fund, key instigator of the RSPO back in 2002, has admitted recently: analysis of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) shows only a handful of member producers are making adequate progress towards the goal of becoming 100 percent sustainable.
To get you started and help you follow my barrage of Tweets, FB posting and blogs during the RT13 meeting starting Nov 16th here is a palm oil primer by The Guardian online. There is also a palm oil facts sheet , yes, by the RSPO, so take it with a grain of salt. If you like less salt try this, from Union of Concerned Scientists on Palm Oil and tropical Deforestation.
Notes & Sources
2015-2016 Global research and reporting on great apes made possible in part through the generous financial support of the Philadelphia Zoo