The reputation of the palm oil industry is a long troubled one: its versatility and effectiveness is matched by its associations with
deforestation and human rights violations. Have key industry players done enough in the past two decades to salvage its reputation?
In the world of food and beverage manufacturing, there is perhaps no ingredient which has drawn greater controversy than palm oil. Used across a variety of finished products from chocolate to potato crisps, peanut butter to pizza dough, palm oil has been linked to a slew of global issues across the environmental and social spectrum. Deforestation, biodiversity loss, and human rights violations are only some of the impacts that the most widely produced, consumed, and traded vegetable oil has caused. In a 2021 survey conducted by Nestle, 17% of millennial shoppers (aged 24-40) tend to avoid purchasing products containing palm oil, 20% indicated that they would check if products contained the ingredient; and 45% responded that they tend to avoid products with unsustainable palm oil.
The implications of this consensus is thus clear: despite being the highest-yielding vegetable crop, and the most versatile, there is much that palm oil producers need to do to salvage the reputation of the ingredient. And in response to a wider call for action, the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) has been applying itself to enacting sustainable and ethical change in the industry since its founding in 2004. Its eponymous RSPO Certified Sustainable Palm Oil (CSPO) sets the environmental and social directive for participating companies, minimising the negative impacts of palm oil production on the local environment, wildlife, and communities.
“RSPO was created specifically in response to the negative consequences of palm oil production in the early 2000s. In many ways, the scrutiny which the industry has come under is the reason we’ve come so far,” said Dr Inke van der Sluijs, director of market transformation at RSPO. “RSPO and its members have continuously pushed the industry to improve its environmental and social track records. Sustainability is now embedded into the global supply chain because RSPO has defined what sustainability is — production with respect to the environment via diversity and human rights.
The full article can be found here.