BOSTON — Multinational food companies and institutional investors representing more than $5 trillion in assets signed a June 1 letter seeking stronger environmental and social regulations to qualify for certification from the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil.
ConAgra Foods, Inc.; Dunkin’ Brands; General Mills, Inc.; The Kellogg Co.; Mars, Inc.; PepsiCo, Inc.; and Starbucks were some of the food companies signing the letter sent to Datuk Darrel Webber, secretary general of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil and based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Retail chains signing the letter included Albertsons-Safeway and Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. Other consumer packaged goods companies signing the letter included Colgate-Palmolive, Procter & Gamble and Johnson & Johnson Family of Consumer Cos
The letter said R.S.P.O. Certified Sustainable Palm Oil (C.S.P.O.) does not sufficiently address sustainability concerns in the palm oil supply chain. Many companies across the palm oil supply chain voluntarily have adopted their own sourcing standards that go beyond R.S.P.O. standards, the letter said.
“We are, therefore, writing to urge the R.S.P.O. to strengthen its standards and practices to reflect best practices widely recognized as necessary to ensure palm oil is produced in a manner that does not degrade the environment or result in violations of human rights,” the letter said.
The office of New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli and Green Century Capital Management, Inc. organized the letter, which called on the R.S.P.O. to prohibit deforestation and peatland clearance for certified palm oil production and to include additional environmental and human rights protection. The letter said the R.S.P.O. should do more to conserve High Carbon Stock areas; protect peat, regardless of depth; report on greenhouse gas emissions and reduction targets; ensure palm oil originates from known sources; and strengthen transparency, auditing and enforcement among R.S.P.O. member companies.
“The R.S.P.O. acknowledges the importance of the issues raised by some institutional investors and industry players in this recent letter,” the R.S.P.O. said June 1. “It is encouraging to see that more and more actors today are willing to play an active role in moving toward a sustainable palm oil supply chain and share R.S.P.O.’s vision of transforming the markets to make sustainable palm oil the norm.
“The R.S.P.O., in its multi-stakeholder nature, has a commitment for inclusivity, and the R.S.P.O. standard is agreed upon through a consensus process. While the nature of this system means that at times compromises are necessary to move forward and ensure buy-in of all stakeholder groups represented within the R.S.P.O., this system is also essential to ensure that R.S.P.O. not only supports existing exemplary organizations, but also assists those who are still trying to improve their sustainability standards.”
On May 5 the R.S.P.O. said it was working on voluntary guidelines designed to enhance the existing standard’s requirements on issues such as deforestation, peatland development and indigenous people’s rights. The voluntary addendum to the existing R.S.P.O. Principle and Criteria (P&C) would be made available to growers. The first draft of the additional addendum will be made available to the R.S.P.O. board of governors this month.
In a June 1 press conference covering the letter, Lucia von Reusner, a shareholder advocate for the Green Century Capital Management, said the R.S.P.O. holds a review process every five years, with the next one scheduled for 2018. She said the R.S.P.O. should accelerate its review process and hold it within the next year.
The R.S.P.O. is an indispensable organization, said Pat Doherty from the office of New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli in the press conference. He said the letter was less of a criticism of the R.S.P.O. and more a constructive attempt to strengthen R.S.P.O. standards and enforcement.
The R.S.P.O. was formed in 2004 to promote the growth and use of sustainable oil palm products through global standards and stakeholder engagement. More information may be found at www.rspo.org.The June 1 letter may be found at www.ceres.org/files/rspo-letter.