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Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil Suspends Members

Words by Leon Kaye

As the medical community ramped up their warnings of health risks related to hydrogenated oils, palm oil production has skyrocketed over the past 15 years.

Palm oil has proven to keep our crackers crisp and peanut butter from separating. But environmental destruction and human rights violations have marred the industry, especially in the two world’s largest producers, Indonesia and Malaysia.

The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) has emerged as the premier self-regulating authority on educating and monitoring industry about the benefits and urgency of sourcing more sustainable palm oil within a firm’s supply chain. Many organizations and writers, however, have criticized the multi-stakeholder group on everything from greenwashing to allowing companies responsible for deforestation to maintain membership within the group.

But advocates for more rigorous sourcing of sustainable palm oil may be encouraged by the RSPO’s decision to terminate or suspend over 100 members for not submitting an annual report to the organization.

Companies that did not submit an Annual Communication of Progress (ACOP) to RSPO for three consecutive years had their membership terminated immediately. Those organizations that failed to report for two consecutive years will have 30 days to comply before their certificates and trademarks are revoked.

Over half of the terminated members are palm oil suppliers, many of which are in important palm oil producing countries including Malaysia, Indonesia, Colombia and the Philippines. Only three consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies in France made the same list.

The list of “suspended” companies is much longer. And on this side of the pond, a few marquee names had their memberships canceled: Hain Celestial Group, the company behind brands like Celestial Seasonings tea, WestSoy, Rice Dream and Alba Botanica; and Seventh Generation, which has been an RSPO member since 2008. Sun Products Corp., which produces laundry cleaning products such as All, Wisk and Snuggle, was also called out by the RSPO. The RSPO acknowledges that some organizations are on the list because they were either bought out or no longer use palm oil in their products — but those are the rare exception.

According to the RSPO, any company on the list will not be able to use the RSPO trademarks on their products until they catch up on their compliance paperwork. True, membership has its privileges in any organization, but it also comes with responsibilities. The pressure is on companies from many environmental and human rights groups to accelerate their sourcing of more responsible palm oil. In fact, the latest commitment to only source sustainable palm oil, from Earth Balance, surprised many observers who assumed the Boulder-based company had already done so.

World Wildlife Fund, which has been working with the RSPO and key companies through its own working group, was supportive of last week’s announcement. “We hope that this is a sign that the RSPO and its membership are now taking seriously not only the need to report progress but also to show progress,” said Adam Harrison, WWF’s lead on palm oil in a press statement. “The duty to continuously improve performance is central to the founding vision of the RSPO and this applies not only to the organization as a whole but more importantly to its individual members.”

Image credit: Achmad Rabin Taim

Based in Fresno, California, Leon Kaye is a business writer and strategic communications specialist. He has also been featured in The Guardian, Clean Technica, Sustainable Brands, Earth911, Inhabitat, Architect Magazine and Wired.com. When he has time, he shares his thoughts on his own site, GreenGoPost.com. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

Leon Kaye headshotLeon Kaye

Leon Kaye has written for 3p since 2010 and become executive editor in 2018. His previous work includes writing for the Guardian as well as other online and print publications. In addition, he's worked in sales executive roles within technology and financial research companies, as well as for a public relations firm, for which he consulted with one of the globe’s leading sustainability initiatives. Currently living in Central California, he’s traveled to 70-plus countries and has lived and worked in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.

Leon’s an alum of Fresno State, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California's Marshall Business School. He enjoys traveling abroad as well as exploring California’s Central Coast and the Sierra Nevadas.

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