Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil Called To Task for Certifying Violent, Destructive Companies

On November 12, with the endorsement of organizations from five continents, Friends of the Earth International and World Rainforest Movement publish an open statement denouncing the failure of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) to eliminate the violence and destruction that oil palm plantations cause in the territories where they are established.

This statement is made public internationally before the start of the RSPO Annual Conference, taking place in Sabah, Malaysia from November 12-15.

RSPO presents itself to the public with the slogan “transforming the markets to make sustainable palm oil the norm”. Nonetheless, since its inception 14 years ago, RSPO the has been a tool that served the corporate interests of the oil palm sector. The RSPO certification scheme allows the oil palm industry to expand while greenwashing the destruction and human rights violations it is responsible for.

Palm oil has become the cheapest vegetable oil available on the world market, making it the preferred choice for the group that controls RSPO membership: the big buyers of palm oil. “They will do everything to secure a steady flow of cheap palm oil ,” the statement warns.

The key to the corporate success story of producing “cheap” palm oil is a particular model of industrial production, with ever-increasing efficiency and productivity which in turn is achieved by: (1) planting on a large-scale and in monoculture, frequently through conversion of tropical biodiverse forests; (2) using “high yielding” seedlings that demand large amounts of agrotoxics and abundant water; (3) squeezing cheap labour out of the smallest possible work force, (4) making significant up-front money from the tropical timber extracted from concessions, which is then used to finance plantation development or increase corporate profits; (5) grabbing land violently from local communities or by means of other arrangements with governments (including favourable tax regimes) to access land at the lowest possible cost.

Those living on the fertile land that the corporations choose to apply their industrial palm oil production model, pay a very high price. Violence is intrinsic to this model: violence and repression when communities resist the corporate take-over of their land, sexual violence and harassment against women in and around the plantations, child labour and precarious working conditions that go hand-in-hand with violation of workers’ rights, exposure to excessive agrotoxin application and loss of communities’ food sovereignty.

RSPO’s proclaimed vision of transforming the industrial oil palm sector is doomed to fail because the Roundtable’s certification principles promote this structural violent and destructive model. And whereas the RSPO raises a smokescreen hiding this violence from consumers and financiers, governments often do not take measures to stop the expansion of plantations and the growing demand for palm oil—because they assume the RSPO will offer a seeming guarantee of sustainability.

“Voluntary certification schemes cannot provide adequate protection for forests, community rights, food sovereignty and guarantee sustainability. Governments and financiers need to take responsibility to stop the destructive palm oil expansion that violates the rights of local communities and Indigenous Peoples“, the statement concludes.

Read and download the complete statement here.

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