INTERVIEW : Building national commitments to sustainable palm oil in Belgium, the Netherlands and the UK



Posted on 21 June 2013  | 
Oil Palm fruit
© WWF-Malaysia / Mazidi Abd GhaniEnlarge
A number of initiatives have taken hold in several European countries to promote the sourcing and use of sustainable palm oil, whether certified by the RSPO or other schemes. In this article, Patricia Ghyoros (Belgian Alliance for Sustainable Palm Oil, BASP), Eddy Esselink (Dutch Task Force on Sustainable Palm Oil), and Richard Mitchell (UK Statement on Sustainable palm oil) have shared experiences and plans with their respective “national commitments” to sustainable palm oil.

What companies or organizations are included in your group?

Since June 2013, the Belgian Alliance for Sustainable Palm Oil (BASP) represents the entire palm oil supply chain, from plantation, refineries, various processing sectors in the food industry, the feed Industry, non-food industry to retailers. For BASP’s Ms Ghyoros, “all companies are invited to join BASP, either to be inspired by those who are already using and sourcing sustainable palm oil or to inspire those who have not yet joined.”

The members of the Dutch Task Force on Sustainable Palm Oil are the Dutch Association for Convenience Food Industry (AKSV), Association of Dutch Margarine Producers (BNMF), Dutch Central Food Retail Association (CBL), Federation of the Dutch Food and Grocery Industry (FNLI), Dutch Feed Industry Association (NEVEDI), Dutch Potato Processors’ Association (VAVI) , Dutch Association for the Bakery and Confectionery Industry (VBZ), Association of Dutch Producers of Edible Oils and Fats (VERNOF), and the Product Board for Margarine, Fats and Oils (MVO, chair and secretariat).

The UK Statement on sustainable palm oil mainly includes trade associations representing UK sectors covering oil processors and distributors, food and drink manufacturers, retailers, animal feed manufacturers, hospitality, renewable energy production, cleaning products industry, speciality chemicals sector, together with WWF and the UK Government.

Each of these initiatives welcomes new members.

What are the commitments of the initiatives?

The Belgian, Dutch and UK initiatives share the goal of 100% use of sustainable palm oil by 2015 in each country.

For BASP and the Dutch Task Force for Sustainable Palm Oil, palm oil refiners, food and feed manufacturers and retailers have committed themselves to the goal that all palm oil destined for the Dutch food and feed market should be sourced through one of the 3 RSPO supply chains: Segregated, Mass Balance, or Book and Claim.

The UK Statement is different in that it draws together new and existing specific commitments on the sourcing of sustainable palm oil (RSPO is the main reference standard, but not the only one), which have been made by organisations representing businesses within the palm oil supply chain in the UK. The “100% by 2015” commitment covers the use of sustainable palm oil and palm kernel oil, and relevant sectors are also working to encourage sustainable sourcing of palm oil fractions and derivatives.

“The commitments and actions of individual members vary,” admits Richard Mitchell of the UK Statement. “All are steps on the way to the shared end target of all palm oil being used in the UK coming from sustainable sources (mostly RSPO-certified) by 2015. Some organisations have already committed to only using sustainable palm oil by 2015. Others have made commitments to explore the issues, and encourage and support their members in the switch to sustainable sourcing. Those in the renewable energy industry have legislative requirements that govern their use of palm oil.”

What are the challenges in implementing the initiative? 

A common concern by these initiatives is supply chain traceability. For the UK, Mr Mitchell highlights that “supply chains can be very complicated and traceability is difficult. Some sectors are relatively new to the palm oil agenda, whilst others have been working on it for much longer.”

Mr Esselink goes on to say that “RSPO Supply Chain Certification can be a stumbling block for many players in the chain. This is especially true for smaller end users and this will remain an important priority for the Task Force for the coming year.” These concerns are echoed by Ms Ghyoros, who highlights the fact that “small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) are currently facing difficulties to become RSPO certified as the certification process can be quite costly for individual companies.”

Equally challenging is the gap between the supply and demand for RSPO-certified sustainable palm oil (CSPO) and certified sustainable palm kernel oil (CSPKO). Ms Ghyoros stresses the need to “make sure suppliers and buyers can find each other on the market place to balance supply and demand for CSPO and CSPKO.”

There is also the ongoing matter of awareness. “There is still a lack of awareness of sustainable palm oil, which BASP aims to address by organizing various activities for its members and providing them with tools and materials to spread the word about sustainable palm oil,” emphasizes Ms Ghyoros.

What concrete actions do you have planned for the coming year?

In 2014, the Dutch Task Force will be approaching other sectors to see if there is any interest in joining the Task Force in order to drive more growth in sustainable palm oil production and use. Also on the plantation side, a considerable effort will be necessary—according to Mr Esselink, “the ‘low hanging fruit’ has, in all probability, already been harvested, and especially small plantation owners will have to be supported in the near future to achieve sustainable production. This will be done in the next few years by on-going projects and other new projects to be started.”

BASP will also be extending efforts in the same direction, with workshops planned for the whole palm oil supply chain in the Autumn of 2013, facilitating RSPO Mass Balance and Segregated Group certification for SMEs, and supporting other national initiatives. They also plan to undertake a pilot project from plantation to retailer, and to encourage Belgian companies to adopt and use the RSPO Trademark to enable consumers to identify products that contain sustainable palm oil and help them make an informed choice.

For the UK, Mr Mitchell is planning to issue a progress report in November 2013 with estimates of the UK’s consumption of sustainable palm oil and updates from each of the participating organisations explaining their progress over the past year, and new commitments from any additional organisations wanting to join.

What resources do you offer members or companies?

All 3 initiatives play the role of an information clearinghouse, and also for networking between their members. The Dutch Task Force organises meetings at companies and industry associations to inform them about developments in the field of sustainable palm oil (e.g. information on how sustainable palm oil can be purchased, which claims may be made, and current developments within the RSPO).

The Product Board of MVO publishes 2 newsletters in which sustainable palm oil is discussed; the newsletter on Sustainable agriculture and “Vette Feiten” (in Dutch). In the UK, the Central Point of Expertise in Timber (CPET) was expanded to include providing information and advice on sustainable palm oil. CPET helps both UK businesses and government procurers to source sustainable palm oil through a website, helpline and a quarterly newsletter. Similarly, BASP provides a platform of discussion for all stakeholders, information material on RSPO supply chain certification systems, and cases studies.

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