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Do You Agree With the Matrix RSPO: Certification Is Considered to Be the Best Alternative and Diversion Campaign Is the Worst

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What is Certified Sustainable Palm Oil? We call it palm oil that was certified by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) according to specific criteria. By respecting those criteria, we can help to reduce the negative impacts of palm oil cultivation on the environment and communities

Palm oil is used in many of the products on supermarket shelves, from margarine and chocolate to ice cream, soaps, cosmetics, and fuel for cars and power plants.

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Sustainable palm oil production is comprised of legal, economically viable, environmentally appropriate and socially beneficial management and operations. At the heart of RSPO certification are the RSPO Principles and Criteria for Sustainable Palm Oil Production (including Indicators and Guidance, revised November 2013), the global guidelines for producing palm oil sustainably. The Principles & Criteria are a generic document. Since countries differ in their laws for the same criteria, such as minimum wages for workers for example, and there are cultural and other differences, the Principles &Criteria are further adapted for use by each country through National Interpretations

This crucial step not only allows for negating potential conflicts between an international standard and national laws, but also to allow for national level stakeholder consultation. This would translate to addressing key concerns at local or regional level, giving specific points to unique situations and complementing national laws with a higher benchmark (where applicable) for industry to achieve.

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Faced with the gravity of today’s environmental and social problems, consumers are increasingly seeking out sustainable products that minimise negative impacts on people and the planet. In 2015, a survey of 30,000 consumers in 60 countries found that 66% of consumers are willing to pay more for products or services from companies committed to positive social and environmental impact (Nielsen, 2015). In the UK alone, the market for ethical products grew to more than £81.3 billion in 2017, with demand for sustainable fish growing by nearly 37% in 2016 (Ethical Consumer, 2017). Studies also show that many shoppers rely on labels and certifications as a quick and easy way to identify more responsibly made products without having to become supply chain experts (e.g. Nielsen, 2014). As sustainability goes mainstream, more and more companies are keen to show off their credentials by adopting different types of certification, labels and ethical commitments. The number of different schemes and voluntary initiatives has grown exponentially in recent years. The Ecolabel Index, the largest global directory of ecolabels, currently lists over 460 labels in 25 different sectors. Most of these have emerged in the past two decades. But are they any good? Rather than being an accelerator for positive change, this ‘flood’ of certification creates confusion for consumers and the industry and is standing in the way of genuinely sustainable consumption.

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To sum up, there are several interrelated causes for this need for support, including lack of knowledge of certification and sustainability practices, lack of smallholder organization, notably of independent smallholders, the complexity of some of the RSPO requirements, and lack of incentives to comply. For certification to be of benefit to smallholders, projects should not only focus on complying with the RSPO criteria, but to address the wider challenges smallholders are facing.

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Nielsen, 2014. Global consumers are willing to put their money where their heart is when it comes to goods and services from companies committed to social responsibility. [Press release]. 17 June.

Ethical Consumer, 2017. Ethical Consumer: Markets report. [Online]

European Palm Oil Alliance, n.d. Palm oil consumption. [Online]

Dorey, C., 2017. Personal communication with former Science Adviser and Campaigner at Greenpeace Australia, October.

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