By Brian Collett — The importance of strength in numbers in encouraging responsible practice was emphasised by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil at its Europe conference.
The campaigners aim to swell the numbers in their alliance of producers, refiners, traders, retailers, NGOs and other stakeholders with responsible business certification to support their drive for ethical standards in the industry.
One of the main targets on the conference agenda was wanton deforestation, a common complaint levelled at palm oil growers.
The culprits are usually seen as the large palm oil producers, but this year’s gathering also highlighted smaller operators.
“Many of the growers are smallholders,” said Danielle Morley, the roundtable’s Europe director for outreach and engagement. “We want to get them signed up for membership.”
Other targets in the conference debates were palm oil farmers with poor labour and human rights records.
Morley said: “We have evidence of children working on plantations, of undocumented migrants, and of employers holding on to passports.”
She said one message to the rogue companies was that the better management that is part of responsible farming practice produces bigger crop yields.
An alliance to protect orangutans and other wildlife was set up at the conference by some of the largest palm oil companies, including Wilmar, Sime Darby and Musim Mas, with conservation experts and NGOs.
The growers in the Pongo Alliance – standing for palm oil and NGO – acknowledged their responsibility for ensuring that cultivation of the crop has minimum effect on biodiversity and reinforced their commitment to sustainable landscape management throughout Borneo, the orangutan’s main home.
Ginny Ng Siew Ling, Wilmar International’s forest sustainability manager, said: “The Pongo Alliance’s approach is to engage with all stakeholders on the ground, including palm oil companies, local governments and local communities.”
The theme of this year’s conference
was, appropriately, partnerships for innovation. The conference was held at the London headquarters of the Royal Institute of British Architects. The speakers included Julie Girling, Conservative MEP for the South West of England, Dame Frances Cairncross, an economist and academic who is Chair of the Court at Heriot-Watt University, and representatives of various bodies, including Amnesty International, Greenpeace, Unicef and the Zoological Society of London.
The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, inaugurated in 2003, promotes the production, procurement, financing and use of sustainable palm oil products, and insists on ethical standards throughout supply chains. It has 3,379 members, all holding international good practice certification.
In Brazil and Bolivia soy and meat production companies have been accused by Greenpeace and other NGOs of widespread deforestation and human rights violations.
Greenpeace has started an online petition to raise awareness that the Brazilian government intends to remove protection of 600,000 hectares, making it easier for agribusiness, mining and energy companies to explore and exploit land.