Plantation Industries and Commodities Minister Datuk Zuraida Kamaruddin said that although there has been some increase in the European Union’s (EU) awareness of sustainable palm oil and the Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil (MSPO), there is still not enough understanding of the metrics or of its successes.
According to the Malaysian Palm Oil Board (MPOB), 3,040 estates or 96.04 per cent comprising 4,064,895 hectares (ha) of planted land had obtained MSPO certification as of June 30, 2020, while as many as 400 oil mills or 88.5 per cent have been MSPO certified.
"The strengths of the MSPO standard are often overlooked in view of the economic block’s favoritism towards the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) certification, she said on Saturday (June 4) in an article entitled: MSPO: Government’s effort in ensuring the sustainability of the palm oil industry.
The MSPO standard is aligned to the management of palm oil production with many existing national laws and regulations.
In the context of palm oil sustainability, similar schemes have been implemented such as the RSPO and the Indonesia Sustainable Palm Oil (ISPO).
In a nutshell, the MSPO certification emphasizes credibly sustainable and responsible management to bring about positive social, environmental, and economic impacts while minimizing the negative impacts, particularly on people and the environment, she added.
The RSPO was developed by an international team of palm oil producers, traders, investors and non-profit organizations in 2004, slightly more than a decade prior to the MSPO.
The RSPO is a multistakeholder, non-profit group that unites seven sectors of the palm oil industry in regular dialogue, including investors, growers, retailers and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) using a consensus voting system to develop standards and criteria on an ongoing basis.
Currently, 20 per cent of palm oil worldwide is RSPO-certified.
As a pioneering certification, RSPO has been praised for promoting the growth and use of sustainable palm oil. Doubtlessly, when grown responsibly, palm oil is incredibly land efficient.
Of the major crops (oil palm, soybean sunflower and canola), oil palm occupies the least land but produces the most oil.
A single acre (0.40 hectare) of oil palm produces 11 times more oil than soybeans and 10 times more than sunflower.
In recent times, however, the RSPO has also been criticized, especially by environmental non-profit organizations who feel that its standards failed to accord sufficient protection for pristine forests or palm oil laborers nor address climate protection.
In the article, Zuraida quoted Grassroots founder, Andrew Ng, who said: "New and existing human rights and forest-linked conflicts associated with RSPO certificate holders show that despite the efforts of the RSPO Assurance Standing Committee (ASC), the sustainable palm oil claim is still unreliable.”
Among RSPO’s nearly 5,000 members are some of the world’s biggest multinationals, such as Unilever, Procter & Gamble, Kellogg’s and Johnson & Johnson.
Room for improvement
It is clear that there is room for improvement for certification schemes such as the RSPO in the quest to instill confidence in their claims, according to Environmental Investigation Agency UK, she said.
With both the United Kingdom and EU set to introduce new laws to address illegalities, land rights and deforestation in supply chains, this has become even more apparent.
In fact, a report adopted by the EU Parliament has highlighted that certification schemes can only be complementary and can never replace due diligence by companies due to concerns that certification schemes alone are not effective, she added.