Highlighting the human aspects of palm oil production

International conservation charity ZSL has expanded its pioneering SPOTT (Sustainable Palm Oil Transparency Toolkit) to allow commodity traders and procurement teams increased access to information on the social impacts of palm oil. 

Palm oil plantation in Indonesia
Palm oil plantation in Indonesia

The platform was initially launched in 2014 to transform how oil palm growers are monitored on their commitments to environmental and sustainability best practice. Its new expansion ensures the toolkit covers a broad range of social issues, allowing business partners to make informed purchase decisions. 

New assessments of the 50 largest companies in the sector, published by ZSL, now include a more comprehensive analysis of palm oil producers’ commitments to social sustainability and corporate governance, encompassing issues including fair treatment of workers, anti-corruption commitments and treatment of whistle-blowers.

While some companies are making positive progress in publicly disclosing key sustainability data, the SPOTT team has found that there is still a pressing need for many businesses to make stronger commitments to managing risks including deforestation and human rights abuses.

These new analyses come at a crucial time of the year for the palm oil sector, as Indonesia enters its ‘burning season.’ In recent years the smoke from multiple fires started to clear forest for palm oil agriculture has caused thick and persistent smog in the region. Nevertheless, this month’s SPOTT assessments have seen an encouraging increase in the number of companies implementing “zero burning” policies in an effort to curb this damaging practice, which threatens the important wildlife found in these habitats. 

The team is hopeful that its expanded focus will now encourage similar progress on the industry’s social impacts. So far they have found that despite obtaining free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) from local and indigenous communities affected by palm oil development, many company policies lack detail in describing the customary rights of these groups, as well as lacking provision of formal grievance processes or remediation procedures. 

ZSL’s palm oil technical advisor, Izabela Delabre, said: “During the first phase of SPOTT’s evolution, we focused primarily on charting the industry’s environmental disclosures, and through the growth and recognition of the platform, our assessment criteria has been able to expand to include social impacts too.  

“It’s encouraging that many companies engage with us on their assessments as well as making subsequent disclosures of important sustainability information. We are seeing a clear increase in attention from top management with regard to these issues, and a promising willingness to progress in this area.”

Find out more about ZSL’s SPOTT platform

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