Reviewed every five years, the RSPO principles and criteria (P&C) are a set of environmental and social requirements palm oil producers must adhere to in order to meet the RSPO certification standard.
The newly adopted and ratified P&C 2018 aim to strengthen social development, economic prosperity and environmental protections across the palm oil value chain, RSPO said.
“Today, we endorsed a universal, transformative, and integrated agenda, intended to strengthen transparency and inclusivity in the RSPO system, increase implementation of the RSPO standard, boost market uptake of [sustainable palm oil] through shared responsibilities, and create an enabling environment for our shared vision of market transformation,” RSPO CEO Datuk Darrel Webber commented.
Today's agreement is the result of a multi-stakeholder review process, launched in March 2017, which generated almost 11,500 stakeholder comments.
The P&C 2018 comes into effect immediately, with existing RSPO grower members given a one-year transition period to implement the new standard.
Zero deforestation through HCSA
The new P&C include a number of new elements, such as adopting zero deforestation through the implementation of the High Carbon Stock Approach (HCSA).
It is estimated that over 13m hectares of forests are lost each year, and cultivation for commodities like palm oil, soy and beef are the biggest drivers of tropical deforestation.
The HCSA is a field-tested methodology for distinguishing forest areas that should be protected or restored from degraded lands that may be developed, using an integrated land-use planning approach.
Deforestation emerged as a crucial issue during the review process because the existing certification standard permitted the clearance of secondary forests. According to the HCSA Executive Committee, which backed the new standards, these forests are vital for wildlife, carbon storage and local livelihoods.
The HCSA Executive Committee commented: “The RSPO’s new proposed requirements to halt deforestation through the use of HCSA’s No Deforestation methodology will allow the RSPO certification system to contribute to the transition to a deforestation-free palm oil sector.
“Additionally, application of the rigorous social requirements of the HCS Approach will be integral to achieving positive impacts for communities that balance sustainable livelihood and poverty reduction with the need to conserve, protect and enhance ecosystems, and respect land users’ rights.”
The review process also resulted in the subsequent development of an additional and separate standard specifically for independent smallholders, due for ratification in November 2019.
Filling the gaps but challenges remain
Nestlé’s global head of responsible sourcing, Benjamin Ware, welcomed the adoption of the new standards.
“This addresses key gaps [in RSPO certification standards] that we have been calling out, including requirements related to no conversion of High Carbon Stock (HCS) forests; no planting on peat of any depth; and stronger Free Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC), community protection, and labor criteria,” Ware said.
Nestlé, the world’s largest food maker, has already committed to achieve zero deforestation in by 2020. The company is using a number of tools in addition to certification to achieve this, such as satellite monitoring, worker helplines and smallholder inclusion projects.
The criteria adopted by the RSPO 2018 P&C are already part of the Nestlé Responsible Sourcing Standard, which Ware said sets out “detailed requirements”, focusing on critical social, environmental, economic and animal welfare challenges.
However, Ware highlighted the importance of taking part in certification schemes like RSPO in order to drive change at an industry level.
“We will continue to play a leading role within the RSPO to help drive positive change across the entire palm oil sector. Additional challenges are still to be addressed. These include the adoption of an approach to prevent deforestation in high forest cover landscapes and the adoption of a simplified standard for smallholder farmers, who account for 40% of palm oil production globally."