Reports indicate that, by November, the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) is set to release revised Principles and Criteria (P&C) for the production of sustainable palm oil. This will bring new standards into force.

At the same time, the European Parliament is pushing for the creation of a ‘Eurocentric sustainable palm oil standard’. This is beginning to encroach on the standardisation work of the RSPO and of the two biggest palm oil producing countries.

In addition to its P&C on the production of sustainable palm oil, the RSPO develops and maintains a number of documents and standards. They include those relating to the supply chain, internal and external certification systems and processes, and other relevant guidance for its members. On June 14, 2017, the RSPO Board of Governors (BoG) approved revised versions of such documents. These in part help set the foundation for the upcoming P&C.

On July 4, 2017, the RSPO Secretariat published the revised Certification Systems for P&C. The document entered into effect on July 1, 2017, but all members and certification bodies have been given 12 months to bring their systems into compliance.

The document sets out the requirements for the systems that must be followed in the implementation of certification against the requirements of the P&C and/or its National Interpretations. Although most of the document will apply from July 1, 2018, Clauses 4.10 and 4.11 entered into force on Sept 1, 2017.

Clause 4.10 addresses reporting and communications. The certification body must prepare a peer-reviewed certification audit report, including a public summary report, and submit it to the RSPO by the deadlines set. Clause 4.11 pertains to the certificates that the certification body must complete and send to the RSPO Secretariat within the stipulated time-period.

The RSPO Secretariat has also published a revised Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for Standard Setting and Review. This document, also approved at the June meeting, took effect from July 1, 2017. It sets out the procedures and describes the processes by which the RSPO standards are to be set and reviewed.

In general, two standing committees are charged with the oversight of the standards: the RSPO Standards & Certifications Standing Committee (S&C SC); and the Trade & Traceability Standing Committee (T&T SC).

The S&C SC is responsible for documents describing and relating to the RSPO P&C, while the T&T SC is responsible for documents describing the RSPO supply chain certification standard.

The SOP is particularly relevant as the S&C SC finalises the new P&C. The RSPO standards are reviewed at least once every five years. The existing standard from 2013 is being reviewed for continued relevance and effectiveness, including through the assessment of results of ongoing monitoring and evaluation by the RSPO.

The S&C also decides to what extent it is necessary to conduct stakeholder engagement during the revision process; whether a task force is required; and the extent of public consultation. The Terms of Reference of the S&C SC include:

  1. The definition of sustainable palm oil production through stakeholder expertise and research;
  2. The development of P&C that, both individually and in aggregate form, reflect the definition;
  3. The construction of measurable indicators for the various criteria;
  4. The adaptation of criteria and indicators for the various socio- environmental conditions under which palm oil is produced, without compromising the criteria and definitions;
  5. The provision of support to the Secretariat to organise a credible mechanism for scrutinising and recording the production of RSPO-defined sustainable palm oil in the various environments, including where deemed necessary, through engagement with governments; and
  6. The provision of support to the Secretariat to strengthen the capacity to produce palm oil sustainably and to set aside the resources to support monitoring.

Once developed, revised standards are to be field-tested so as to assess their feasibility and the extent to which the requirements can be audited. Pilot tests can take place in multiple locations to assess differences in geographical regions. Once endorsed by the BoG, the revised standards are voted upon by the RSPO General Assembly, where a single majority of a fixed quorum of ordinary members is required for adoption.

There are as yet few details of the new RSPO P&C. In terms of the three main roles of the S&C SC – stakeholder engagement; task force creation; and public consultation – reports indicate that the stakeholder engagement process was launched in May 2017.

In addition, on May 26, 2017, the RSPO announced the formation of a Labour Rights Task Force. It is expected that addressing labour rights will be an important part of the revised P&C.

It is also expected that the revised P&C will take steps to improve the ability of smallholders to meet the sustainability criteria, in the hopes of recruiting more of them into the RSPO membership.


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