Fighting for improvements in the production of palm oil

The production of palm oil is causing social and environmental problems worldwide. Both ENDS is working to make the sector fairer and more sustainable and is promoting alternatives for palm oil.

Worldwide palm oil production has been growing for several decades. The oil palm is one of the cheapest and most productive sources of vegetable oil. It is therefore used for many products, including chocolate, toothpaste, shampoo and washing-up liquid, and as a biofuel.

Social and environmental problems

The production of palm oil causes a lot of problems. Firstly, there is the damage to the environment: precious rainforest – the habitat of many species, including tigers, elephants and orangutans – is sacrificed to produce it. Often, the forest is set on fire, releasing large quantities of greenhouse gases. And around plantations, much ground and surface water is contaminated by fertiliser and pesticides.

Palm oil production also causes social problems. In areas where new plantations are planned, conflicts often arise about land rights. Communities in these areas rarely have formal land rights and they are often robbed of their land and means of subsistence by palm oil companies. The only choice they then have left is to go and work on the plantations, where working conditions and pay are bad.

The problems relating to palm oil are occurring not only in Malaysia and Indonesia – in the latter alone nine million hectares (more than twice the size of the Netherlands) had been turned into oil palm plantations by the end of 2016 – but increasingly also in Africa and Latin America.

The Round Table on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO)

In 2001, in response to the growing problems around palm oil, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and a number of companies (including Unilever) took the initiative to set up the Round Table on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). Both ENDS joined the RSPO in 2005. The RSPO now has more than 3,000 members, including companies involved in cultivating, trading in and processing palm oil, financial institutions and civil society organisations.

The RSPO aims to achieve 100% RSPO-certified palm oil. There are other certificates for sustainable or fair palm oil, but they are less strict than the RSPO standard. RSPO-certified companies have committed themselves to providing good working conditions for their employees, respecting land rights and other rights of local populations, and refraining from felling or burning down valuable forest for palm oil plantations. Due to sometimes inadequate compliance with and enforcement of the RSPO guidelines, however, abuses still often come to light surrounding certified plantations.

To further strengthen the voice of affected communities, Both ENDS continues to work within the RSPO to achieve better compliance with the guidelines and a more effective complaints mechanism. In addition, on the initiative of Both ENDS, the RSPO has launched an RSPO Outreach programme. Through this programme, the RSPO supports local organisations that wish to inform communities affected by palm oil production of the opportunities for addressing problems via the RSPO and to help them find solutions.

Participatory Land Use Planning

One way to safeguard the land rights of local populations is Participatory Land Use Planning (PLUP). PLUP entails mapping out actual local land use together with the local people. Showing what land they use for their means of subsistence strengthens their position in negotiations with palm oil companies and they receive a voice in the decision-making on land use.

Rich Forests: the forest as a sustainable source of income

Forest-dwelling communities generally depend on the forest for their means of subsistence. Besides the fields they use to grow rice and other crops, they also gather other food such as fruit, nuts and honey and other necessary natural materials like cane from the forest.

With our Rich Forests project, we promote methods to make the forest productive through agro-forestry and help communities to market products they gather in the forest, so as to increase their incomes. That also increases their resilience in fighting against the unregulated spread of plantations for palm oil and other monocultures like sugarcane, bananas or soya.


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