ZSL Platform Encourages Palm Oil Buyers to Make Ethical Decisions

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07 Jul 2017 --- Traders and procurement teams working with palm oil can now join a pioneering Zoological Society of London (ZSL) platform that gives increased information on the social impacts of the sought-after commodity. The international conservation charity has expanded its Sustainable Palm Oil Transparency Toolkit (SPOTT) platform to cover social impacts having initially launched it in 2014 to transform how oil palm growers are monitored on their commitments to environmental and sustainability best practice.

Its new expansion ensures the toolkit covers a broad range of social issues, allowing business partners to make informed purchase decisions.
 
New assessments of the 50 largest companies in the sector, published by ZSL, now include a more comprehensive analysis of palm oil producers’ commitments to social sustainability and corporate governance, encompassing issues including fair treatment of workers, anti-corruption commitments and treatment of whistle-blowers.

What is SPOTT?
SPOTT promotes corporate transparency and accountability to drive industry uptake and implementation of environmental and social best practice in commodity production. The free online platform provides a scorecard and detailed assessments of 50 of the world’s largest palm oil companies on the disclosure of their practices and their commitments and progress towards the implementation of best practice. 

This provides commodity producer companies with a framework against which to report, clearly setting out expectations for public disclosure of commitments and progress.
 
SPOTT enables investors and other stakeholders to engage with companies in support of sustainable commodity production. ZSL is currently expanding SPOTT to assess companies operating in other industries. SPOTT is an initiative of ZSL’s Business and Biodiversity Program and forms part of a wider ZSL mission target to ensure that best practice is business-as-usual in at least one million km2 of priority production landscapes by 2026.

Some Companies Need to Make Stronger Commitments 
While some companies are making positive progress in publicly disclosing key sustainability data, the SPOTT team has found that there is still a pressing need for many businesses to make stronger commitments to managing risks including deforestation and human rights abuses.
 
These new analyses come at a crucial time of the year for the palm oil sector, as Indonesia enters its ‘burning season.’ In recent years the smoke from multiple fires started to clear forest for palm oil agriculture has caused thick and persistent smog in the region. Click to Enlarge

Nevertheless, this month’s SPOTT assessments have seen an encouraging increase in the number of companies implementing “zero burning” policies in an effort to curb this damaging practice, which threatens the important wildlife found in these habitats.
 
The team is hopeful that its expanded focus will now encourage similar progress on the industry’s social impacts. So far they have found that despite obtaining free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) from local and indigenous communities affected by palm oil development, many company policies lack detail in describing the customary rights of these groups, as well as lacking provision of formal grievance processes or remediation procedures.
 
ZSL’s palm oil technical advisor, Izabela Delabre, said: “During the first phase of SPOTT’s evolution, we focused primarily on charting the industry’s environmental disclosures, and through the growth and recognition of the platform, our assessment criteria has been able to expand to include social impacts too.”
 
“It’s encouraging that many companies engage with us on their assessments as well as making subsequent disclosures of important sustainability information. We are seeing a clear increase in attention from top management with regard to these issues, and a promising willingness to progress in this area.”

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