Palm Oil Monocultures Will Never Be Sustainable

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Pale green NGO supports destructive palm oil plantations in Asia, Africa and South America

An Open Letter to the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RPSO) and the WWF, published November 2, 2009

One year ago, the International Declaration Against the ‘Greenwashing’ of Palm Oil by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil was published, signed by over 250 organisations worldwide. Since then, the RSPO has continued to certify palm oil produced by companies which are directly responsible for violating the rights of local communities, for the ongoing destruction of rainforests and peatlands and other abuses against people, the environment and climate. Even worse, palm oil suppliers are being granted ‘interim’ RSPO certification based solely on self-assessments.

Destructive oil palm plantations have been certified in Malaysia, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea and the same greenwashing exercise has started in Colombia, Thailand and Ghana.

We are deeply concerned that RSPO certification is being used to legitimise an expansion in the demand for palm oil and thus in oil palm plantation, and it serves to greenwash the disastrous social and environmental impacts of the palm oil industry. The RSPO standards do not exclude clear cutting of many natural forests, the destruction of other important ecosystems, nor plantings on peat. The RSPO certifies plantations which impact on the livelihoods of local communities and their environments. The problems are exacerbated by the in-built conflict of interest in the system under which a company wanting to be certified commissions another company to carry our the assessment.

We also concerned about the role played by WWF in promoting the RSPO and using it to support endless growth in the demand for palm oil. WWF initiated the founding of the RSPO, continues to lobby worldwide for it, and combines this with their support for the agrofuel industry, including palm oil.

WWF’s involvement is being used by agrofuel companies to justify building more refineries and more palm oil power stations in Europe. The promise of ‘sustainable palm oil’, backed by WWF, was one important factor behind the EU’s decision to go ahead with a 10% agrofuel target by 2020, and the RSPOwill be used to allow palm oil to become eligible for EU agrofuel subsidies and other support. This is speeding up indiscriminate palm oil expansion in even more countries, including Mexico, Guatemala, Cameroon, DR Congo, Republic of Congo, Uganda and Tanzania.

Unilever, with 1.6 million tonnes per year the biggest palm oil consumer in the world, uses a ‘commitment’ to use RSPO palm oil in future as a way of portraying itself as a ‘responsible’ company, ignoring the real impacts of palm oil. Wilmar International has applied for RSPO certificates in Indonesia, even though evidence of their involvement in illegal land-grabbing, fire-raising and rainforest and peatland destruction has led to the World Bank having suspended funding for palm oil. That hard-won suspension is now at risk of being lost because of false promises by the RSPO.

In Colombia, palm oil company Daabon, an RSPO member, succeeded in being portrayed in European media as a ‘responsible’ company, despite the fact that they had illegally evicted small farmers from their land, felled trees and contaminated the Caribbean Sea with palm oil spills. In South-east Asia, IOI has had plantations certified, despite being responsible for the illegal destruction of peatlands and rainforests in Kalimantan, destroying the livelihood of indigenous peoples. Their customer Neste Oil has gained an interim RSPO certificate on this basis and is using this to promote biofuels for aviation, while building the world’s biggest palm oil biofuel refinery.

Palm oil monocultures for food production, cosmetic and chemical industries and agrofuels are a major cause of deforestation and climate change, they destroy the livelihoods of millions of small farmers, indigenous peoples and other communities. They require agro-chemicals which poison workers and communities, soil, water and wildlife, they deplete freshwater and soils. Palm oil monocultures are not and can never be sustainable and ‘certification’ serves as a means of perpetuating and expanding this destructive industry.

We therefore reiterate the call made in the International Declaration last year and demand

  • An end to all agrofuel targets, subsidies and incentives, particularly in Europe and the US;
  • Major reductions in the demand for vegetable oil and energy in the North;
  • The cancellation of trade relations between companies purchasing palm oil and suppliers destroying forests and peatlands as they are responsible for or benefit from violating Human Rights;
  • Land reform to devolve land to local communities, guarantee food sovereignty and restore biodiverse agriculture and ecosystems;
  • Resolution of land conflicts, protection of human rights, reparation for damages;
  • Restoring all remaining peatlands which have been drained for oil palms as far as this is still possible in order to mitigate global warming.

NGOs should not lend legitimacy to the RSPO and WWF must stop promoting the RSPO palm oil supporting agrofuels.

Governments in Europe and the US must reduce the demand for palm oil by stopping the policies which have created the artificial agrofuel market and ending agrofuel use.

NOTES: The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) is a private organisation or ‘stakeholder forum’, which has created an ‘independent’ label for certification of ‘sustainable’ palm oil. Among the members of the RSPO are 80 palm oil plantation companies and federations, 8 banks and finance companies, 51 consumer good manufacturers, 23 retailers, 118 processors and traders and 21NGOs. Find here a list of RSPO certificates and company applications for such certificates, dated 1st November 2009.


  • Acción Ecológica, Ecuador
  • Action Populaire Contre la Mondialisation, Geneva, Switzerland
  • Afosci, Paraguay
  • Afrika-Europa Netwerk, Netherlands
  • Agencia de los Pueblos En Pie, Ecuador
  • Alert aginst the Green Desert Network, Brazil
  • Alotau Environment Ltd, Papua New Guinea
  • Amazon Fund, USA
  • Amigos de la Tierra Buenos Aires, Argentina
  • A SEED Europe, Netherlands
  • Asociacion de Solidaridad con Colombia “ASOC-KATÍO”, Spain
  • ASOCONSUMO, Colombia
  • Asolatino Berna, Swiss
  • Attac, Spain
  • Berggorilla & Regenwald Direkthilfe, Germany
  • BI “Kein Strom aus Palmöl !” – Germany
  • Biofuelwatch, UK
  • Bismarck Ramu Group – Madang, Papua New Guinea
  • Centre for Orangutan Protection, Indonesia
  • CETRI – Centro tricontinental, Belgica
  • Centro de Acogida para imigrantes y de Promocion Cultural “E. Balducci”, Italia
  • Centro de Documentación en Derechos Humanos “Segundo Montes Mozo S. J.” (CSMM), Equador
  • Centro Ecologista Renacer, Argentina
  • Climat et Justice Sociale, Genève
  • CODDEFFAGOLF, Honduras
  • COECOCEIBA-AT Costa Rica
  • Colectivo de Colombianos Refugiados en Asturias, Spain
  • Colectivo Rosa Luxemburgo, Chiapas, México
  • Colectivo Sur Cacarica, Spain
  • Comité Cerezo, México
  • Comité Oscar Romero de Madrid, Spain
  • Comité Oscar Romero de Vigo, Spain
  • Comunidad cristiana Mártires de Uganda, Spain
  • Cooperativa de Artesanas Jolom Mayaetik, Chiapas, México
  • Coordinadora Nacional de Organizaciones Campesinas (CNOC), Guatemala
  • Corporate Europe Observatory, Bruselas, Bélgica
  • Cristianos de Base, España
  • DWK Panama e.V. , Germany
  • Ecological Internet, Papua New Guinea.
  • Ecological Society of the Philippines
  • Ecologistas en Acción, Spain
  • Ecoportal.Net, Argentina
  • ECOTERRA Intl.
  • Envirocare, Tanzania
  • FASE /Espirito Santo, Brazil
  • FASE Bahia, Brazil
  • FCSF Fundación para el desarrollo sustentable, Equator
  • Federación de Comités de Solidaridad con África Negra, Spain
  • FEDICAMP – Esteli, Nicaragua
  • FOBOMADE Bolivia
  • Forschungs- und Dokumentationszentrum Chile-Lateinamerika e.V. FDCL, Germany
  • Freunde der Naturvölker e.V./FdN (fPcN), Germany
  • Gesellschaft zur Rettung der Delphine, Germany
  • Grupo de Trabajo Suiza Colombia, Basilea/Berna
  • Guildford and Waverley Friends of the Earth Group, England
  • Kinal Antsetik, A. C., Chiapas, México
  • KoBra, Germany
  • Labour, Health and Human Rights DEvelopment Centre, Nigeria
  • Latin American Network against Monoculture Tree Plantations RECOMA
  • “La pluma”, Equipo de “Los Pueblos en Pie, grupo Francia
  • La Ventana,Investigación y Divulgación Científica, Mexico
  • para el Desarrollo Regional, A.C
  • Maderas del Pueblo del Sureste, Chiapas, Mexico
  • Mandacaru, Germany
  • Mangrove Action Project MAP, USA
  • Munlochy Vigil, Scotland
  • Nacional de Organizaciones Campesinas CNOC, Guatemala
  • Network for ecofarming in Africa NECOFA, Kenya
  • Network of Alternatives against Impunity and Market Globalisation, International
  • North East Peoples Allinace, North East India
  • Observatorio Latinoamericano de Conflictos Ambientales, Chile
  • Ökowerk Berlin, Germany
  • Osservatorio Informativo sulla Americhe, Italy
  • Otros Mundos, Mexico
  • Pacific Indigenous Peoples Environment Coalition PIPEC, New Zeland
  • Plataforma de Solidaridad con Chiapas de Madrid, Spain
  • Programa de Defensa de Derechos Indígenas – Perú
  • Programa Universitario México Nación Multicultural PUMC-UNAM of Oaxaca, México
  • Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign, USA
  • REDES – FOE, Uruguay
  • Red Ambiental Loretana (President, Paul McAuley MBE), Peru
  • Regenwald-Institut e.V., Germany
  • Robin Wood, Germany
  • Salva la Selva/Rettet den Regenwald, Germany
  • Save Our Borneo, Indonesia
  • SAVIA, Guatemala
  • Secretariado de Centroamerica, Zentral America Secretariat, Switzerland
  • Servicios Jurídicos y Sociales SERJUS, Guatemala
  • Sobrevivencia, Amigos de la Tierra Paraguay
  • Sociedad Colombiana de Automovilistas, Colombia
  • Socio-Ecológica LaFuerza, Guatemala
  • South Durban Environmental Alliance (SDCEA), Southafrica
  • SPI (Indonesian Peasant Union), Indonesia
  •, Netherlands
  • UmweltHaus am Schüberg, Germany
  • Union paysanne du Québec, Canadá
  • Vegetarierbund Deutschland VEBU, Germany
  • Watch Indonesia!, Germany
  • World Rainforest Movement, Uruguay
  • XXI Solidario, Spain
  • Youth, governance and evironmental programme Y-GEP, Kenya

Private persons:

  • François Houtart, Prof. emeritus of the Catholic University of Louvain, UNESCOprize 2009, Belgium
  • Elvira Lussana, Prof. Faculty of Economics University of Perugia-Italy
  • Monique Munting, Belgium
  • Pedro Tostado Sánchez, Cristianos de Base, España


  • I absolutely agree with your demands set out here. However, as Executive Director of Orangutan Land Trust and representative of Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation on RSPO, I believe there is a role for us to play from within this organisation. Groups like ours and Wetlands International and Sawit Watch challenge RSPO every step of the way–highlighting and denouncing short-comings, failures, and misplaced agendas. We are thorns in their sides, pushing for more credibility and transparency. If you attend ANY of the RSPO meetings, you can see us in action, and judge for yourself.
    Monocultures including oil palm, soya, rapeseed and corn exist and will continue to exist. It is essential that they operate in the most sustainable way possible. But we all understand that a monoculture by its very definition can never truly be considered “sustainable.” I think of it as degrees of sustainability, and that there are bare minimums that we can and should expect as the norm: no land-grabbing, a no burn policy, no conversion of peat or HCV areas, to put it in the most simplistic of terms.
    As individuals and communities, we have the right to avoid the use of palm oil on principal, but it will still be produced despite this. We must fight for ensuring that that which is produced is produced “sustainably.”
    We SHOULD reduce the overall demand for oil-seed monocultures, especially for use in biofuels.
    As a member of RSPO, I support the goals of the RSPO, but do not endorse the failures of the RSPO, such as certifications of certain members who were undeserving.
    I respect the conviction and vision of all signatories above, and the campaign needs your voices.

    Yours sincerely,
    Michelle Desilets
    Executive Director
    Orangutan Land Trust

    NB: All statements above represent my personal opinion.

  • These kinds of stories serve to remind us that even the most “respectable” NGO’s can play treacherous roles in the struggle for climate justice.

    The WWF (variously known as the World Wide Fund For Nature or the World Wildlife Fund) actually boasts on its website that the “WWF was instrumental in making the RSPO possible”.

    Other environmental/conservation groups that are members of RSPO include the Rainforest Alliance Inc. (USA), the Orangutan Land Trust (U.K.), and Wetlands International (Netherlands)

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