Lifting IOI Palm Oil Suspension Comes Too Soon, Says Science Advocacy Group

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09 Aug 2016 --- A US non-profit science advocacy organization claims it is too early for the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) to have lifted the suspension on the IOI Group.

Speaking with FoodIngredientsFirst, campaign manager of tropical forest & climate initiative, from the Union of Concerned Scientists, Sharon Smith, says that it is crucial for IOI to demonstrate real progress and launching a new plan of action doesn’t go far enough.

“UCS urged the RSPO not to lift the suspension on IOI at this time. Given IOI’s history of releasing public commitments, while failing to follow through with them, UCS believes it’s critical for IOI to demonstrate real progress towards resolving the very serious and ongoing issues with its operations, its subsidiaries, and its third-party suppliers,” she says.

“Releasing an action plan is not enough. Once again, IOI might fail to deliver on its pledges, such as a pledge to end forest clearance. It’s simply too soon for the RSPO to have lifted the suspension.”

The Union of Concerned Scientists was one of several concerned organizations that jointly wrote to the RSPO last month urging it not to lift a certification suspension on IOI, saying it would be “premature” to do so. 

These included the likes of Palm Oil Consumer Action, Orangutan Land Trust, Center for International Policy, Tropical Forest & Climate Initiative, Link-AR Borneo, Greenpeace Southeast Asia and Rainforest Action Network.

The suspension concerned three subsidiaries that allegedly violated a raft of RSPO standards that are meant to prevent rainforest destruction, social conflict and some laws. 

NGOs had already filed a grievance about these operations six years ago, but with the RSPO’s slow complaints system; it has dragged on ever since. During that time, the IOI has been one of the biggest suppliers of RSPO-brand “Certified Sustainable Palm Oil”, or CSPO to the consumer goods giant Unilever, another roundtable member. IOI’s ability to sell palm oil as a CSPO was suspended as well. 

However, an IOI statement describes how the suspension has been lifted due to steps taken by the Group to improve its sustainability procedures. 

“The Board of Directors of the company are pleased to announce that IOI Group on 05 August received the letter from RSPO informing that the RSPO Board of Governors has endorsed the recommendation made the Complaints Panel to lift the suspension of RSPO certification for the entire IOI Group,” it says.

“The Complaints Panel is satisfied that IOI Group has met the conditions set out in its letter to IOI Group dated 14 March 2016, based on the actions that IOI Group has taken and implemented since then.” 
The suspension was officially lifted yesterday (08 Aug), the same day IOI published its revised palm oil sustainability policy, a five-page document that details how IOI wants to be considered a leader in sustainable palm oil production. These include: 

  • To comply with all applicable legislation and codes of practice
  • To implement leading sustainability standards laid out in this policy for environmental management, human rights and workplace conditions, community development and social impact
  • To build traceable supply chains that all suppliers are also in compliance with our commitments 
  • To strive for the highest levels of transparency and stakeholder engagement

“The revised policy reaffirms our commitments to no-deforestation, no planting on peat, zero-burning on all new planting and re-planting as well as driving socio-economic advancement of the communities. It also introduces new commitment on peatland landscape management and protection, peatland rehabilitation, enhanced fire prevention measures, and the implementation of a more robust labor rights monitoring system,” says IOI’s group head of sustainability, Dr Surina Ismail.

“A key element is that we expect and will ensure our suppliers adhere to the same sustainability commitments as us.” 

IOI has also pledged to regularly update progress reports every quarter, beginning in Q4 2016. 

by Gaynor Selby

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