Greenpeace released a report that criticizes commodity certification systems across the globe. This includes certification systems for palm oil, such as RSPO, as well as national standards endorsed and supported by the Indonesian and Malaysian governments, ISPO and MSPO respectively.

Unfortunately, Greenpeace’s report is peddling claims that do not comport with reality. Moreover, it is riddled with factual inaccuracies and misleading information about the Indonesian palm oil sector, and Indonesian government policy.

The Indonesian palm oil community is fully committed to sustainable palm oil, and abides by all laws and regulations. Palm oil is the most-certified and most-monitored commodity in the world: the multiple global and national certification standards give assurance to consumers and businesses. This process, involving NGOs, the private sector, small farmers, and governments, is globally accepted. European governments, leading environmental NGOs, independent scientists and academics, and farmer groups all agree that certification is sound public policy.

Today’s challenges require policy solutions that bring people together in an inclusive manner under a common goal to ensure the widest possible support. In the case of palm oil certification, an adversarial approach, such as that advocated by Greenpeace, undermines the progress that has been made over the last decade or more.

Take for example, RSPO, a multi-lateral certification process comprised of growers, businesses and civil society. In response to Greenpeace, RSPO may have put it best, “RSPO rules ensure that all voices are fairly represented and that all decisions are reached by consensus. This requires the active participation of businesses and civil society in all twenty two committees and working groups, followed by the approval of our elected Board of Governors, and the General Assembly. This process may be slow at times, but it is unquestionably fair and transparent.”

As for ISPO, sadly, it appears Greenpeace and those that contributed feedback to the report have neither read nor researched the revised ISPO standard – officially published in late November 2020 – prior to the completion of their report. Its criticisms rely on old and outdated critiques of the system; it incorrectly reports enacted legislation as mere proposals; and contains a large number of factual errors regarding revisions to the system.

Here’s the basic factual errors Greenpeace gets wrong on ISPO:

  1. The report states that ISPO certifying bodies are accredited by the ISPO Commission. This is not correct. Accreditation is performed by KAN, Komite Akreditasi Nasional, which is Indonesia’s national accreditation body. KAN is a member of the International Accreditation Forum, which is the global body for government accreditation bodies. IAF members do not just accredit certifiers and auditors for sustainability; they also accredit certifiers for safety systems for cars and planes, healthcare systems, food safety and other accreditations that materially affect people’s lives on a daily basis.
  2. The report states that “ISPO standards have been widely assessed as being weak.” The critiques referred to were published prior to the publication of the revised ISPO standards that were completed in 2020; these critiques are not addressing the most recent versions of the standard.
  3. The report states that “Indonesian government has recently proposed legislation that will weaken environmental impact assessment (EIA) requirements, a core component of ISPO standards.” This statement is incorrect for two reasons; the legislation was passed in November 2020; and, the legislation streamlines EIA requirements only for projects that have no environmental impact. Projects that have an impact must still fulfil AMDAL requirements.
  4. The report states that “the revised ISPO standard has reportedly largely ignored civil society organisation and public consultation input.” This is not true. The consultation for ISPO’s revision between 2017 and 2018 has been wide-ranging and extensive, consulting civil society organisations across Indonesia, particularly farmer groups. This consultation has been extensively documented by FOKSBI, Indonesia’s national multi-stakeholder forum for palm oil.
  5. The report claims that “ISPO has no transparency requirements for assessments, certified areas, disputes and complaints or audit results.” This is not true; the scheme has a number of transparency requirements in its principles and criteria, and procedures in place for dispute resolution.
  6. The report states that “ISPO CBs are accredited directly by the ISPO Commission rather than having an independent body to do this. There are reportedly no independent monitors to assess the credibility and accountability of the ISPO scheme.” This is not true. As noted above, accreditation takes place via KAN. KAN appoints independent auditors only as part of its procedural requirements.
  7. The report argues that ISPO is inferior because it is not ISEAL Code Compliant. ISEAL was established by its members in order to give credence to its sustainability systems that do not meet the more rigorous standard-setting processes of the International Standards Organisation (ISO) and use accreditation under the IAF system (see above). ISEAL on its own is not a guarantee of anything other than that it has been endorsed by ISEAL members.
  8. The report criticises ISPO for its standards for not being freely available publicly. This is not unusual for ‘real’ standards that are published by national standards organsiations, and international organisations such as ISO. ISO charges for most of its published standards.

This latest missive from Greenpeace produced a unified response from the Indonesia Growers Caucus, where 18 companies responded with an open letter correcting Greenpeace’s falsehoods.

As we look forward, one thing is clear: Greenpeace’s preferred approach to public policy is unilateral – to tear everything down it does not like – which is neither constructive nor collaborative.