Thursday, December 2, 2010


Sun in Palm Tree Leaves, Los Angeles/Santa Monica, United States
This travel blog photo's source is TravelPod page: Grown Man

After recently sitting through an investment meeting where I acquired a bit more knowledge on green energy and socially conscious investments I've learned something new that doesn't sit well with me. Although I heard the rumors it is only now that I've taken a good look.

The RSPO that so many of us soap makers have come to depend on just isn't what it appears to be. For those of you who may not know, the RSPO is the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil.

The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) is a global, multi-stakeholder initiative on sustainable palm oil. Members and participants in its activities come from many different backgrounds and include environmental NGOs, banks and investors, growers, processors, manufacturers and retailers of palm oil products and social NGOs. They come from many countries that produce or use palm oil. The principal objective of the RSPO is “to promote the growth and use of sustainable palm oil through co-operation within the supply chain and open dialogue between its stakeholders.”

From what most of us have heard and read, buying palm oil from members of the RSPO appeared to be a good thing. For those of us who try and live environmentally conscious lives anyway. I certainly didn't want to have a hand in the destruction of the rainforest, the disappearance of Sumatran tigers and elephants, or the useless slaughter of orangutan. Instead of just focussing on finding a soap recipe I loved that didn't include palm oil I opted for the alternative, which was to buy palm oil supplied by a member of the RSPO. On the surface the RSPO seems great but the truth is always hidden underneath.

What is “sustained destruction”? Is unsustained destruction OK? And who is to determine “the interests of people in the regions”? Human rights NGOs in Indonesia have been swift to note that some companies that have obtained the RSPO seal of approval “are involved in unresolved conflicts with local communities” over land. There will be battles ahead. But nobody said sustainability was an easy concept. And debate about its meaning can, of itself, be part of the solution. CLICK HERE FOR FULL ARTICLE

Per the net, I've found these articles to shed some light on this subject for you. I could spend a lot of time typing up what most people will never read so if you are interested in this topic I suggest you not take my word for it but look deeper. Make some calls, you might be surprised at what you learn.

Despite RSPO certification, deforestation, deep peat conversion, land disputes and illegal practices continue to occur in the plantation estates owned by Cargill, Sinar Mas, and Duta Palma – all of whom are RSPO members. The RSPO is failing to enforce its own minimal principles and criteria and is not taking action on grievances filed by communities affected by RSPO members. The RSPO must revise its principles and criteria to adequately protect forests, communities and the climate by implementing a moratorium on forest and peatland conversion and by promoting the rights of smallholders and affected communities.

As for me. I have one gallon of palm oil left in my cupboard (yup, RSPO) but it will definitely be my last until I learn from sources that I trust that harvest and production of palm oil has truthfully moved in the direction of sustainability. If that is never than I guess I will never buy palm oil again.

Ultimately the best incentive for credible RSPO is consumer demand. If consumers demonstrate with their wallets that they want credible eco-friendly palm oil, the palm oil industry will provide it. The cost of "greener" palm oil is not high — especially for buyers in rich countries. A paper I published in January with Lian Pin Koh found that the average American consumer would need to spend an extra 40 cents per year to cover the cost of switching from his or her annual consumption of palm oil from conventional to certified sources. Thus consumers have the power to change the industry. RSPO FALLING SHORT








Tierra Verde Handmade Soap said...

For a little bit of a differnt spin on this issue...

Michelle said...

This issue isn't about banning palm oil altogether, though I don't doubt that is the goal of some organizations considering the amount of destruction that is caused by such an industry as large as this one.

This issue is about the responsibility of the RSPO. They are not holding their members to the standards they set and several organizations have legitimate concern about wildlife, natural resources and communities that shouldn't be ignored.

"One of the environmentalists’ main concerns is that there is no legal framework around the ‘P&C’ and companies work at their own pace to meet them. Often they are not met at all.

“It is a voluntary initiative so the company cannot even be held accountable for failing to meet standards,” said Eddie Tanago of the Centre of Environmental Law and Community Rights (CELCOR) in Papua New Guinea.

“Up till now there are 11 or 12 companies certified under RSPO mechanism, however all of the companies have gotten complaints because of most of them are not following the principles and criteria of RSPO but still have the certificate,” (said Agrofuels campaigner from Friends of the Earth Indonesia, Torry Kuswardono.)

Of course, it is an obvious that an industry as large as the Palm oil industry is going to do some damage but that damage is suppose to be alleviated by the RSPO and it isn't happening, so what it boils down to is whether or not consumers want to ignore that fact or do something about it.

My search into this issue goes beyond the articles on the web and I'm glad it was brought to my attention again since I find this situation to be quite similar to what occurred in the South America Rainforest during the 80's. The truth can't be hidden away by opposing views on the internet, the violations by members of the RSPO are well documented.

I read this:
“The RSPO gives the companies a green front and encourages more consumption" (said Valerie Phillips, forest campaigner of the Greenpeace branch in Papua New Guinea)

and was reminded of a little company called BP (British Petroleum) and look how that turned out :(

Even though the involvement of the WWF in the RSPO gives people some faith, the WWF isn't quite that neutral anymore and in fact has come under scrutiny for some of its corporate financial backings.

It is sad that these large corporations continue to use the "green label" as a way to push their product but as consumers it is what we now contend with and from experience I've found that it is all too easy for consumers to just settle with what we are told because it alleviates the pain on our conscience because if we were all honest with ourselves we'd realize there is no way in hell an industry as large as the Palm Industry could ever be sustainable, not to any standard that would protect wildlife and conserve resources for local peoples anyway. If they are to come even close they will have to do a lot better that the RSPO is doing.

And I understand that there are claims that the existence of this industry provides jobs that otherwise may not exist (not much unlike BP) and provides food and shelter for the people of impoverished nations but there-in-lies the dilemma.

You should read this, which may give a better understanding of the real issue at hand. It isn't just orangutans at stake.

Anonymous said...

Wow...and ugh. Michelle, honey, I need to hear some good news for a change. ;}

Michelle said...

Oh T, I am sorry. I tend to vent my frustrations with things on my blog which I really should stop doing. I often use my blog to think out loud. I should share the more positive things, this stuff does get depressing and it isnt't as if it will change.

madpiano said...

How about buying Palm Oil from West Africa instead? I am still trying, it is just not possible to find refined palm oil from there and I only need so many orange soaps. I saw a Dispatches program about this before and apparently a guy in the UK imported a whole load of palm oil from a sustainable source and then was sitting on it in Hull Dock and couldn't shift it. I think he didn't realize that soap makers would have been his target market rather than Mars and Cadbury.

Michelle said...


I appreciate the post but I am no longer looking for a place to buy palm oil as palm oil is not sustainable anywhere.

Although it has been highlighted very little in the press, West Africa is not without issue.

Here is some information that focusses on West Africa:

As to the "improved" lives of native people (as mentioned in the above article)

I know first hand from knowing people who have been displaced and their livelihood changed by these large corporations how an industry can appear to look good for native people when it isn't. Native people have survived well for centuries off nature itself when large corporations move in, destroying land for their own business ventures, providing [jobs] for the locals. On the surface it appears beneficial but I assure you those native people are neither wealthy nor happy. Instead they had a livelihood they loved forcibly replaced by something they have no choice but to do. Plus, the working conditions and pay are deplorable so for us in wealthier nations across the globe to sit and say those native people are better off... that makes us shameful!

All industries have room for improvement but it is seriously doubtful that the Palm Oil Industry is on that list.

Michelle said...

Oops! Full article didn't link:

Anonymous said...

LOL! My dear, I didn't mean that as a criticism! I enjoy everything that you post. You do very thorough research and thoughtful posts. It's an education (but a fun one) coming to your blog!