It turns out there is a general global standard – the RSPO (The Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil) – made up of 8 principles which producers can pledge to withhold to make sustainable palm oil. A company must have a fully transparent supply chain, they must not clear any primary forest (only active since 2018), but instead grow their plantations responsibly. They must also check the quantity of greenhouse gases that they are emitting, treat workers fairly and support smallholders who largely rely on the industry to lift them out of poverty. And of course, they must pledge to protect native wildlife. All of this is regulated by third-party auditors who inspect each plantation to ensure that they fulfil the strict set of criteria, which you can read more about here. Every five years the roundtable comes together to review the standards.
The palm oil industry is valued at $62 billion in 2016, producing 70 million tons of palm oil each year of which, so far, 20% has been certified with the RSPO standard. However, some studies appear to show that forest loss trends aren’t slowing down. According to a study by scientists from Purdue University, a few tricks and loop holes are being used by larger corporations to keep producing huge amounts of palm oil, such as cutting down an old-growth tropical forest for paper and pulp and then starting a non-certified palm oil plantation before transforming it into a certified one.
The RSPO, established only in 2004, has had its fair share of critique come their way from environmental organisations such as Greenpeace. The main issue here is that numerically, the RSPO is dominated by the industry itself, with only 6.7% members being from conservation or social-development groups. Re-structuring the RSPO so that environmental organisations and experts have more decision-making power, could be very valuable here to fight the industry-bias currently dominating the Roundtable.