Kuala Lumpur: The Malaysian palm oil industry is well on the road to sustainability but a lot more can be done to improve it. Sustainable palm oil is important because it fulfils increasing global food demand, supports affordable food prices and poverty reduction. Likewise, it safeguards communities and workers’ social interests as well as protects the environment and wildlife.
In recent years, demand for certified sustainable palm oil (CSPO) by markets in developed countries, specifically from the European Union (EU), has seen an upward trend. This trend is expected to expand into other big palm oil markets such as China and India. Malaysia’s commitment to sustainably produced palm oil is clear via the Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil (MSPO) certification, which will be made mandatory in 2019. Based on this commitment and the push for more certified plantations, smallholders, buyers and manufacturers of palm oil, WWF-Malaysia released two reports comparing and assessing the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) and MSPO certification schemes and standards.
“As many of the larger plantation companies are leading the way in terms of sustainable practices and the RSPO certification, it is now time to focus on more players to embrace sustainable practices, which includes going through the certification process, especially those left behind in their sustainability journey,” said Dato’ Dr Dionysius Sharma, Executive Director/CEO of WWF-Malaysia.
Based on an independent assessment and evaluation process, the reports are divided into two. The first is a comparison between the RSPO and MSPO certification schemes. The second is an assessment of the MSPO certification against a list of criteria based on WWF’s requirements and ambitions for a certification scheme. The assessment was conducted using a Certification Analysis Tool (CAT), a formalised methodology developed by WWF to assess whether a certification scheme is equipped to achieve the best social and environmental impacts at scale.
In the first case, CAT was used to assess both RSPO and MSPO’s standard requirements, and the schemes’ governance, rules and procedures. To ensure impartiality, the CAT was applied by independent assessors who are not affiliated to WWF, or any organisations related to, or are members of the standards assessed.
One of WWF-Malaysia’s goals in applying the CAT on RSPO and MSPO standards is to assess the standards’ strengths in fostering positive social and environmental impact among the palm oil industry. With the assessment, the CAT results will provide scheme owners with feedbacks that may aid in the improvement of the standard, particularly in environmental and social aspects.
According to the comparison report, both the RSPO and MSPO standards were weighed against 160 questions. These questions were categorised according to two sections, Scheme and Standards. Overall, RSPO scored 84% against MSPO’s 54%. RSPO leads the score in both system strength and governance, as well as in subsections relating to environmental and social strength. MSPO, on the other hand, scored not far behind RSPO in subsections relating to environmental and social strength, with a score of 68% against RSPO’s score of 78%. Overall, MSPO received a medium score in all sections, meaning that there is room for improvement in both Scheme and Standards sections. The weakest item in the Scheme section is the chain of custody with a score of 10%. This was due to the absence of a MSPO supply chain certification standard (SCCS) at the time the CAT assessment was conducted. Since then, MSPO has appointed a Technical Working Committee to oversee the
development of standards setting procedures.
In the second report assessing the MSPO certification scheme using the CAT, it was found that MSPO scored higher in the Standards section, with an overall score of 68%. Among the items which received high scores in this section were legality, community relations and biodiversity, with scores of 90% and 80% respectively. However, in the Scheme section, chain of custody and agricultural good practices both received a dismal score of 10% and 25%, indicating that focus is needed to improve this section, as well as to increase the robustness of criteria associated with it. WWF-Malaysia hopes that with the findings of the two reports, MSPO will close the gap and work towards improving the standards.
With RSPO scoring high in the CAT assessment, WWF-Malaysia currently recognises RSPO as credible and independently developed to fulfill international and multi stakeholder requirements. It is therefore the standard and certification scheme that has the capacity to supply certified sustainable palm oil to the global market. Nonetheless, Dato’ Dr Sharma stated that, “Despite scoring 84% in the CAT assessment, WWF believes that RSPO should constantly strive to improve its governance by undertaking reviews of RSPO Principles, Criteria and Indicators, as well as systems and controls that ensure compliance by all RSPO members.”
“As for MSPO, the certification scheme will certainly provide the first step towards the journey for sustainability that will be more internationally acceptable, and eventually make sustainable palm oil the norm in Malaysia. As a mandatory scheme, we will support the strengthening of MSPO standards and we call for a multi-stakeholder engagement platform to undertake this improvement,” he added.
“MSPO is a national certification scheme for an industry that has a wide implication over natural resources, such as clearance and conversion of forest to establish new plantations and holdings. Likewise, the palm oil industry is an important economic sector to eradicate poverty as well as to generate growth. As such, we call for the standards to be strengthened and improved in terms of robustness, accountability and consultation. In view of this, WWF-Malaysia sees MSPO as a potential starting point to achieve the foundations of sustainability in the Malaysian palm oil industry.”
“Overall, WWF-Malaysia will continue its role as an important stakeholder in improving the certification standards of both MSPO and RSPO, and ensuring that sustainability standards, principals and criteria are relevant and constantly of the highest value,” stated Dato’ Dr Sharma.
The reports were launched on 16 April in conjunction with the second Sustainable Palm Oil Community (SPOC) Teh Tarik session – a gathering attended by palm oil industry players to discuss issues pertaining the palm oil industry and landscape in Malaysia. The session focused on current issues such as the EU Parliament vote to freeze production of biofuels produced from food or feed crops, and the impact on the Malaysian palm oil trade. Discussions also touched on labour issues and updates on MSPO. The complete published reports can be accessed through WWF-Malaysia’s website, www.wwf.org.my
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