RT17 2019 Bangkok 4 - 6 November 2019

Category: News Published: Tuesday, 19 November 2019
Three years on since RT14 which was held against a somber backdrop with the demise of His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the King of the Kingdom of Thailand, Bangkok once again play host to RT17.

Datuk Darrel Webber, Chief Executive Officer of RSPO started his welcome address citing the haunting outburst of Ms. Greta Thunberg on the lack of action commitment to address current climate change and sustainability matters. On the back drop of this year’s RSPO theme, “A Shared Responsibility – Connecting Commitment into Actions”, he urged innovative approach to market sustainability, influencing the emotions of consumers to support sustainability. He concluded “ ..... it isn’t all about price!”. The gap is evident on demand and supply he cited 22% growth in CSPO supply and encouraging 156% growth in smallholders’ certification but a dismal 2% growth on supply demand side.

Mr. Sunny George Verghese, Co-founder and Group CEO of Olam Internatonal Ltd gave the keynote address entitled “ Feeding 9.5 billion in 2050 sustainability.  He plea to the private sector to step up sustainability actions to complement existing Government policies and for the investors to measuring economic values by “well-being and overall long-term prosperity” of the corporate entity rather than financial indicators. He highlighted development challenge, climate emergency, biodiversity integrity collapse and social inequality are requiring utmost and immediate attention. Data such as carbon and water footprint, waste generation must be established as indicators and measurements for improvement and broader sectorial roadmaps, collective collaborations, sharing of best practices and scientific innovations are needed to heal the world. Improvements may focus on agricultural transformation to increase yield and reduce use of natural resources for cultivation. Other effort may include reducing wastage. He ended by offering examples of tagging sustainability with economic values to appeal to investors and buy-in. He summarized “Sustainbility Pays”.

The RSPO update session informed of the launching of Smallholders’ Trainer Academy (STA) which is tasked to provide global and replicable sustainability training. By adopting a ‘train-the-trainer’ approach, the Smallholder Trainer Academy has been developed with a focus on improving smallholder livelihoods and sustainable farming practices. RSPO Smallholder Programme Manager, Kertijah Abdul Kadir, said “Using tailored training materials, offering ‘Master Training’ to bring more trainers to the scheme, and improving the capacity building support on offer for smallholders, we hope to scale up the network of trainers currently working with oil palm smallholders.” The STA will work with partners from relevant sectors to expand ‘field-to-training’ capacity, and any corporate or non-corporate organisations working directly or indirectly with oil palm smallholders can become an Academy Partner. Over the coming years, the RSPO Smallholder Trainer Academy aims to build a pool of Master Trainers across sectors and organizations that form a global community promoting sustainable oil palm practices through smallholder training.

RSPO Jurisdictional Approach continued to receive attention of RT17 with a dedicated plenary session of distinguished panelist discussing practical experiences of implementation of the jurisdictional approach at different scales ranging from district, state to country-based initiatives. The panel is completed by Dr Glyn Davies, Senior Advisor, WWF & Co-Chair of RSPO JWG who spoke on linking the jurisdictional approach to RSPO certification.
In the first Plenary session evolving aroung Achieving Shared Responsbility, panels members of the Shared Responsiblity Task Force with representation across all member categories enthusiastically shared their task to define shared responsibility and recommend strategies for collecting, reporting, monitoring and evaluating, including a mechanism for incentives and sanctions. The SRTF recommendations are based on initial thinking from the restructure subgroup of the P&C Review Taskforce, review of existing RSPO systems (current and planned), organisational documents, RSPO Secretariat input, 75 interviews and surveys with stakeholders from all sectors, six SRTF teleconferences, an in-person SRTF workshop, and a public consultation.

Subsequent plenary session discussed on Driving Uptake: Action-oriented commitments, Mark Eastham, Senior Manger for Sustainable Products at Walmrt International shared his company’s commitment in sourcing 100% RSPO-certified MB and SG products for Walmart private brand by end 2020, support development of deforestation and supply chain monitoring and reporting to ensure greater accountability and finally inceasing availability of deforestation-free commoditees. Walmart’s commitment to bring CSPO into their China and India markets in addition to European and USA received applause by the audience and other MNCs are urged to promote the use of CSPO uptake in developing countries.

A highlight of the conference is the comparative LCA finding sof RSPO certified vs. Non-certified oil in the plenary session on Using Evidence to Drive Change. This crowdfunded project initiated in 2016 used formidable consequential and attributale LCA tools on more than 600 estates and 150 mills in Malaysian and Indonesian . Finding show commendable 36% lower GHG emission, 20% lower Biodiversity Impact, higher yields and OER for RSPO certified vs. non-certified producers.

A day previous to this, there were several preparatory cluster discussions. Ms. Liz Clarke of WWF chaired the panel on Assurance keeping in-check in the first session of the preparatory cluster. Her panel deliberated challenges of ensuring a formidable assurance system to ensure delivery of an effective RSPO system. Challenges include poor implementation of the 2015 approved Resolution 6h in 2015 for a task force to put in force an effective asssurance system. All-in-all the session concluded the need for the new task force to focus on outcome rather than processes to maximize impact on delivery of assurance. There is a need to ensure that audits and extended verification exercise such as complaints resolution findings are credible and respected rather than challenged. The panel also acknowledge the additional tools such as satellite monitoring and a system to enable effective worker’s voice and be used in combination and supplement to the standard audit/tick-box verification.

You, Me & Them– Championing Rights the next preparatory cluster session stressed the importance of having a clear definition on ethical recruitment. The panel made reference to the Internation Labor Organization (ILO) definition as bench mark to provide better guidance to specific requirements with regards to ethical recruitment. The panel discussed limitations of G2G approach due to difference in government regulations of the origin, transit and destination and hence the need for private society and NGOs to play a role in closing the gaps with regards to reducing exploitaions of migrant workers. A grower advised in response to audience survey findings to embrace decent wage by understanding workers requirements rather than benchmarking against industries. In most cases, she added, the minimum wage regulation coupled with the assistance given in-kind (housing and transportation provisions, health care and other benefits) will likely exceed RSPO’s minimum living wage requirement.

Coffee with Complaints Panel : What’s Brewing? – 13 members and with vacancy particularly from growers and social NGOs (there are also proposals for trade union and industry representtive to join).. Panel urged members to make full use of their internal grevance producere, bilateral engagement (complainant and respondent act independently and resolve dispute) or dispute resolution facility (mediator is present to facilitate dispute ) before it is escalated to the RSPO Complaints Panel. The panel briefed the audience on the process of the initial complaint logging, obtaining breaching elements, investigation process, subsequent judgement  and recommendation of actions to the BoG. New Complaints Appeal Procedure (CAP) system introduce in 2017 to speed up processing with better SOP allowing an appeals process by the respondent to appeal against the CP’s decision. There is also suggestion to publish CP investigation files to promote transparency but this however may be over simplistic due to sensitivity of information such as whislte blower anonimity, confidential business information, etc. Punishment options include stop work order, suspension or at worst termination even though the CP has never recommended the latter penalty. Lately less FPIC-related complaints as there is less new plantings and partly checked with the new New Planting Procedure (NPP). Instead more labour-related complaints are lodged in recent times.

The third and last day focused on smallholders with the session panels lobbying for approval of the GA resolution on later part of the day to have two separate standards for independent smallholders and the generic Principles and Review 2018, the former being specifically developed to facilitate onboarding of independent smallholders. Ashwin, RSPO Head of Smallholders Program, explained that the new certification programme will last three years. “The first step is creating the awareness, we call it the eligibility phase. They then get two years to get trained, where they move to Milestone A, and that is the interim phase of compliance (40% RSPO Credits sales threshold), through Milestone B (70% RSPO Credits sales threshold) and they get one more year to achieve full compliance of the standard,” Ashwin said. This training will include financial planning and business planning. The somewhat interesting session was however lacking in the Q&A session where questions from smallholders from Thailand and Indonesia on declining premiums of independent smallholder credit and threats of selective credits buying were not adequately discussed.

Ms. Anne Rosenbarger, the first lady Co-Chair of RSPO presented the closing address. Whilst RSPO did great with the new P&C 2018 and incorporation of NDPE elements, tougher challenges in terms of low demand for CSPO and exposure to tainted reputation by non-sustainable production continue to haunt RSPO members and members are urged to play collective responsibility to address these challenges. Anne was applauded when she urged NGOs to support positive communication of sustainable palm oil with the condition that they are supported by consistent, measurable and verifiable. She also highlighted the need for buyers to step up procurement decision on CSPO to substantiate their policy commitments as it is but only 2 weeks away from 2020, a year chosen by many buyers as their commitment to source sustainably. Lastly, she challenged RSPO to maximize engagement and alignment of members to address sustainability challenges and not focus merely on increasing certification. The climate emergency calls for implementing actions that create thoroughgoing impact, small incremental improvements will no longer do!

The GA 16 resolutions results:

Resolution GA16-6a:
To confirm the appointment of PricewaterhouseCoopers as the auditors of the RSPO for the financial year ending 30 June 2020.

Resolution GA16-6b:
Ensuring transparency and multi-stakeholder engagement in the quality assurance of assessments and audits.
The Board of Governors did not reach a consensus on this resolution.

Resolution GA16-6c:
Expanding the authority of RRO Indonesia to support the delivery of services to Indonesia's independent smallholders to accelerate transformation of norms and inclusiveness.
The Board of Governors supports this resolution.

Resolution GA16-6d:
Balanced representation in the RSPO General Assembly Voting Process.
The Board of Governors supports this resolution.

Resolution GA16-6e:
Submission of Peat Inventory by all RSPO "Grower" and "Processor and Trader" Members.
The Board of Governors supports this resolution.

Resolution GA16-6f:
Adoption of the RSPO Independent Smallholder Standard (RISS) 2019 for the production of sustainable palm oil by Independent Smallholders.
The Board of Governors supports this resolution.

Anne Rosenbarger is the Southeast Asia Commodities Manager in the Food, Forests and Water Program at the World Resources Institute (WRI).  Anne has been based with WRI in Indonesia since 2010, concentrating primarily on the links between commodity supply chains and forest conservation. Anne currently serves as a co-chair and representative of Environmental NGOs on the RSPO Board of Governors as well as various other RSPO groups such as the Standards Standing Committee BHCV WG, and No Deforestation Task Force.

Sunny George Verghese is the Co-founder & Group CEO of Olam International Limited. Headquartered in Singapore and listed on the SGX-ST, Olam currently ranks among the top 30 largest primary listed companies in Singapore in terms of market capitalisation. In 2016, Fortune magazine recognised Olam at #23 in its ‘Change the World’ list. Sunny was awarded the Best Chief Executive for large cap companies in the Singapore Corporate Awards (SCA) in 2011 and was named ‘Outstanding Chief Executive for 2006’ in the Singapore Business Awards (SBA) and Singapore’s Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year in 2008.


(R to L) Mr. Choong Chairman of AOMG RSPO TWG with Mr. Lawrence Law of AOMG RSPO TWG at RSPO RT17


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