Will changes in the role of the RSPO Board improve governance?

10th May 2014

The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) will celebrate 10-years since its founding in 2004. While its certification side has grown (RSPO certified oil is now at about 10 million metric tons), complaints have also followed a similar trend.

However, unlike the RSPO certified oil story, our investigations revealed that only 2 of 22 officially posted cases (as of September 2013) from a possible 50 submissions were successfully closed by RSPO. Issues and specifics have been recorded in our report, “Beyond Certification: Reforming RSPO’s Complaints System to meet stakeholder expectation”, which was the foundation for the RSPO General Assembly resolution that was adopted in November 2013 on reforming their Complaints System (CS).

We identified the need to maintain a vigilant watch over RSPO’s efforts to address this apparent weakness – a systemic one that is one root problem afflicting all complaints cases. We realise policy decisions at the Board level resonate to the field, and with little mechanisms for upward feedback from those of us working on the ground and representing those most affected in the global South. A platform for transparent monitoring of RSPO’s decisions will help the ongoing work of various campaigners, communities, activists and purchasers.

Major changes are being revealed in RSPO’s governance structure. Significantly, the Board will be more withdrawn from policy and implementation issues – less hands-on and more advisory, we have been told. This is in part because they’ve been exposed for conflicts of interest. RSPO has also called for external participation in its Complaints Panels to help adjudicate over grievances. The Secretariat will be responsible for formulating policy while the November 2013 resolution triggered RSPO to do its own independent review of their CS.

How will this pan out? Will the new arrangement work in deterring future Board meddling? Will the Secretariat’s new powers mean improved access for Southern social NGOs to RSPO? Will the backlog of grievance cases get tackled and addressed with urgency and priority this year?

Grassroots will continue to monitor and share information regarding the evolution through the lens of stakeholders and our collective interest for social and environmental justice.

(At the time of writing, the RSPO website has updated the Executive Board to Board of Governors. However, this change is not reflected in RSPO’s Statutes and By-Laws yet, which does not provide a clear basis for understanding what changes have occurred. 23 March 2014)