Thu, 01 Apr 2010

Eighteen major palm oil producers and the Directorate General of Plantations decided here Monday to set up an independent team to verify Greenpeace’s allegations of deforestation by Indonesian companies.

The action was adopted as more big buyers in Europe have been pressured by environmental campaigners such as Greenpeace to stop buying palm oil from Indonesian producers that have not gained green certification under the Round table on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) scheme.

The government and palm oil plantations have been concerned that as green campaigners and consumers turn up the heat on European companies the buyers may arbitrarily use the NGO pressures as a bargaining weapon to demand lower prices from suppliers in Indonesia, given the country’s position as the world’s largest producer.

Unilever, the world’s single largest industrial consumer of crude palm oil (CPO) last December moved to cancel new contracts with Indonesia’s largest producer Sinar Mas group after being shown by Greenpeace photographic evidence of Sinar Mas clearing rainforests in protected areas.

In February, the giant Anglo-Dutch consumer goods company also told its dealers not to source palm oil from Duta Palma, a major palm oil producer, on concerns over rainforest destruction.

Then last month, Nestle threatened to boycott palm oil from Sinar Mas, unless the Indonesian big producer could prove that Greenpeace’s allegations of illegal rainforest clearance are groundless.

The problem, though, is that an independent team to be set up by the government and national palm oil producers would not be effective in countering the green campaign against Indonesian palm oil.

The core issue is credibility. As long as the verification team includes only Indonesian government agencies, palm oil companies and environment NGOs its work and finding will not be accepted by international organizations as credible, given the country’s notorious reputation as one of the world’s third largest emitters of CO2 and one of the most corrupt countries in the world.

The Kuala Lumpur-based RSPO would actually be the most effective forum for Indonesia to develop a better reputation in regard to green certification because that organization groups the largest palm oil producers from Indonesia and Malaysia, which together account for over 85 percent of the world’s palm oil output, major industrial consumers and such respected NGOs as WWF, Oxfam and Sawit Watch.

The right mix of members and founder prevents any perception that RSPO is an organization controlled by developed countries who want to protect their own edible oil industries (mainly corn, soybean and peanut).

The principles of sustainable management promoted and assessed by RSPO in its certification process fully meet our development needs as they promote such elements as transparency, legal and regulatory compliance, best production practices, environmental responsibility and commitments to local community development.

The RSPO principles are similar to those promoted by the Bonn-based Forest Stewardship Council, which groups the representatives from environmental and conservation groups, timber industries, forestry professions and forestry communities, for its forest certification standards.

Instead of setting up a counter green certification scheme to RSPO it is much more effective for Indonesian companies and NGOs to be more active within RSPO to make improvements in green certification.

Even though our palm oil exports to Europe account only for a small portion of our output as most of our exports go to India, China, Pakistan and African countries, we can no longer ignore the green consumer movement which has been escalating around the world.

In fact, several big producers which have gained RSPO certification, have never encountered problems from European buyers with regard to green labeling.