Speaking at the organisation’s RT14 conference in Bangkok, Datuk Darrel Webber said global events – from the election of Donald Trump to Brexit - showed there was a chasm opening up between the elites and the masses.
The challenge for RSPO, which certifies 18% of global palm oil, is to ensure it is on the side of the masses and not the establishment.
‘I cannot, must not, second guess a democratic process in a developed country,” he said of Trump’s election, “but I think there is a big push back against globalisation and we have seen this in other places in the world.
“The push back, in my humble opinion, is because many see globalisation as being a driver of inequality. The gap between the haves and have nots has never been greater.
"When confronted by this chasm, the masses do not talk about logic any more, they just want to get rid of this pain,’” he said.
This posed problems for RSPO, he added, because it was trying to bring global best practices around palm oil sustainability to local people.
“Whether we like it or not, the RSPO is perceived as a a tool of the global economy.
“We sell transformation, but we must ask ourselves who are we transforming, the elite or the masses.
“If we find we are part of the problem, creating this chasm, we will lose the game and all the improvements we have made from 2004 will matter not. We must leave no-one behind.”
He went on to highlight three priorities for the organization to meet the changing global landscape.
Webber said it had to better facilitate local discussion among all stakeholders, including governments and local authorities, to help them “talk, think and act.”
No easy option
He also pledged to increase the number of “local ambassadors” who can spread the RSPO message, instead of it being a top-down approach.
“We are now reaching out to intermediary organisations which can help us reach out to a much more local level,” he said.
Thirdly he argued that buyer countries had to be persuaded to engage in the palm oil debate, instead of taking the easier option and stopping using the product.
He closed the conference by telling delegates that despite the battles ahead, the organisation’s 15 years of activity had brought major benefits.
“Our commitment to sustainability has not been in vain. But in context of global events, I don’t want to gloat. We need more ambitious targets to become an org far greater than the sum of our parts. We need to do crazy, ambitious things. We need to transform markets, both global and local, without leaving anyone behind,” he added.