Ethical Performance
inside intelligence for responsible business


ethical palm oil principles beginning to take shape

January 2005

Consultation ends this month on the first draft of globally applicable principles for sustainable palm oil production.

The draft has been drawn up for the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), which represents oil palm growers and processors, consumer goods manufacturers, retailers, investors, non-governmental organizations and government agencies. The principles are expected to be agreed by the end of this year.

The draft seeks to minimize the social and environmental impact of oil palm plantations, which are linked with deforestation and land rights abuses, and to maintain employment standards. It says companies sourcing palm oil must ensure producers:

conserve or restore biodiversity in plantations
carry out social and environmental impact assessments before planting oil palms
leave intact primary forest or areas of high conservation value
not plant steep, marginal and fragile sites intensively and use fire to clear land only in ‘exceptional’ circumstances.

The draft also says the companies and their suppliers should not make plantations on indigenous people’s land ‘without their free, prior and informed consent as expressed through their own representative institutions’, should respect customary rights and sacred sites, and should buy land at a fair price.

ProForest, a UK-based consultancy that wrote the draft for the RSPO, says it ‘strongly recommends’ the voluntary principles be piloted and suggests they be implemented in stages. More than 28 million tonnes of palm oil are used every year in products that include margarine, cooking oil, crisps, cakes, biscuits and pastry. NGOs and investors have begun to press companies using the oil to reduce the environmental impacts of plantations.

Agropalma Group (Brazil), Danisco (Denmark), Cloetta Fazer (Sweden), Britannia Food Ingredients and Body Shop (both UK) are among corporate supporters of the RSPO, which is holding a series of public forums in Indonesia, Malaysia and other producer countries.

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