RSPO RT14: Palm oil smallholders ‘put off’ by food manufacturers’ labelling tactics

By Gary Scattergood

- Last updated on GMT

RSPO RT14: Palm oil smallholders ‘put off’ by food manufacturers’ labelling tactics

Related tags Palm oil

Almost 500 products belonging to RSPO members are carrying ‘contains no palm oil’ labels, in a clear breach of the organisation’s ‘spirit’ – with the vast majority of them coming from the food industry.

Speaking in his opening address at the orgnaisation’s RT14 conference in Bangkok, Dato’ Carl Bek-Nielsen, RSPO co-chair and chief executive director of United Plantations Berhad, said this was the source of considerable discontent among palm oil growers.

He also told delegates it was deterring small holders, who are responsible for 50% of global palm oil production, from signing up as RSPO members.

“Members of the RSPO are using ‘no palm oil’ labels on their products. There are 489 products on shelves with no palm oil claims belonging to RSPO members,”​ he said.

“My personal message is that you are not taking ownership and this is why smallholders who are sitting on the fence are choosing not to join.”

Later, speaking in a personal capacity as a grower he went far further, accusing manufactures who engaged in such practices as being “first-rate hypocrites’. You can read his full comments here​.

Nevertheless, despite the evident tensions between growers and manufacturers, he insisted the organisation had come a long way in its efforts to promote sustainable palm oil, with 18% of worldwide production now coming from RSPO members.

“We wish to accelerate the transformation of making sustainable palm oil the norm, but the RSPO is still young,”​ he added.

“We now have over 3,000 members, but we are aware much more what must be done,”​ he added, arguing smallholders had to be a key priority for the organisation.

“Today, we must not forget smallholders. In Indonesia 50% of all producers are smallholders, in Malaysia it is 40% and in Thailand it is up to 80%.

“They play a significant role and we must accept smallholders will need additional help, resources and time. Or we risk that they will turn their backs on RSPO.”

Crucial time

According to RSPO CEO Datuk Darrel Webber, partnerships between all stakeholders is now more crucial than ever.

“At this stage as we embrace the concept of market transformation in committing to  not leaving anyone behind, stakeholders must increase their participation to improve effectiveness,”​ he said.

“Now comes the hard question. How do we ensure these certification schemes are benefiting sustainability? Only through strong collaboration and collective action, we will be able to achieve these vision."

Meanwhile, the RSPO has launched a new trademark mobile app, which will allow consumers to identify and geolocate products carrying the RSPO trademark.

The organisation created the app in a bid to increase consumer awareness on certified sustainable palm oil and help consumers have a say with their shopping choices. 

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