RSPORoundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) and similar organizations are trying to change the palm oil industry. Palm oil is edible vegetable oil. It is widely used in many commercial food products. From chocolate to butter, it reaches the top of the ingredient list in almost 50% of packaged food labels globally. When considering its mass production and wide range of use, it is easy to see the importance of the movement calling for action and reform. RSPO raises this question: what is so bad about it?

RSPO’s Initiative

The palm oil industry is large in size. As a result, it does not have many regulations. The side effects that come with this are significant. They include improper and unethical farming, unequal pay for workers and unsafe working conditions. The most predominant consequence is deforestation.

By recognizing these malpractices and their impact on the employees and environment, RSPO sought a new and progressive technique. After being formally established in April 2004, the RSPO introduced its Principles and Criteria (P&C) for the production of sustainable palm oil. To account for unique national laws and the complexity of the palm oil supply chain, the P&C undergoes revision every five years and varies internationally. However, the fundamental elements remain the same.

Additionally, the P&C prioritizes deforestation prevention. This means that companies are unable to clear or cultivate in substantially forested areas containing valuable biodiversity or fragile ecosystems. In addition, the requirements also highlight the fair treatment of workers, abiding with international labor rights standards. They also decreased the use of harmful pesticides and chemicals. If these main guidelines, along with the others stated on the P&C, are successfully implemented and reviewed, palm oil producers are certified by the RSPO.

RSPO’s Theory of Change

By providing specific guidelines to guarantee sustainability certification, RSPO is mobilizing its main vision: to make sustainable palm oil the norm. Its Theory of Change protocol outlines the procedures in place to attain this goal. The roadmap analyzes the effectiveness of its outputs on three main areas: prosperity, the planet and the people.

Furthermore, one main effort which benefits the people is an increase in smallholder participation and overall mobilization of growers. This in turn leads to improved risk management and safer work practices. These smallholders are small-scale farmers with low hectarage and family-run labor. RSPO certification of smallholders improves their management practices, quality of fruit and yield and access to markets.

Progress Made in Mexico

Overall, the long-term progression on the Theory of Change roadmap suggests that farmers will experience more sustainable and financially stable lifestyles. This past year, Oleopalma became the first RSPO-certified company in Mexico. Since small-scale farmers account for 90% of Mexico’s palm oil farmers, this achievement will reflect widely in the prosperity of the people. After Columbia, Mexico is the largest consumer of palm oil in Latin America. This reaffirms the key benefits coming forward from this transformation. It is also the largest sourcing market for PepsiCo’s palm oil supply. This correlation suggests not only a drastic improvement in the lives of workers but eventually the environment and economy as well.

Samantha Acevedo-Hernandez
Photo: Flickr