New criteria for sustainable palm oil set by RSPO

RSPO members adopted new sustainability criteria to halt deforestation and improve human rights protection, and established a separate smallholder standard. EPOA members participated in this successful process.

The RSPO Principles and Criteria (P&C) cover environmental and social impacts of palm oil production. Every five years, the RSPO P&C are revised to update the RSPO standard to the latest developments and insights with respect to sustainable palm oil production. The 2018 P&C revision was approved during the RSPO 15th General Assembly in Kota Kinabalu 15th of November.

P&C review
The collaborative, multi-stakeholder P&C review process (from March 2017 till October 2018) received almost 11,500 individual stakeholder comments. The review process also resulted in the subsequent development of an additional and separate standard specifically for independent smallholders, due for ratification in November 2019.

Protecting the rain forest

The key outcomes of the new P&C include no new planting on peatland and the protection of High Conservation Value (HCV) and High Carbon Stock (HCS) for new plantings after 2018. HCS will be assessed via High Carbon Stock Approach (HCSA) toolkit and HCV-HCSA Assessment manual. New is that HCV and HCS forest will not only be protected, but also maintained and enhanced as part of an integrated management plan, including wider landscape level considerations with relevant stakeholders.

A shared responsibility

A similar move to go beyond individual plantations in the new P&C is found in the principle  that reads all fresh fruit bunch supplies from outside the unit of certification are from legal sources and growers should establish fire prevention and control measures for the managed area including engagement with adjacent stakeholders. Companies should also support smallholders in their supply base to improve yields and productivity.

More transparency
An exception on the above HCS criteria can be made for local communities living in high cover forest landscapes. A separate working group for sustainable palm oil in high forest cover (HFC) landscapes will be created to oversee this process. The new P&C also pushed companies to be more transparent on their progress. One of the criteria for example requires companies to reduce pollution and emissions, including greenhouse gases. These plans must be monitored and publicly reported.

Improve human rights protection

The new P&C also includes new wording around community rights and FPIC (Free, Prior and Informed Consent). In general this results in a better protection of vulnerable groups. Furthermore , there are strengthened requirements with respect to child labour and forced & trafficked labour.


A separate standard will be established for independent palm oil smallholders. The smallholder standard presents a simplified, but robust version of principles and criteria, a lower burden for entry and a phased process for reaching compliance. The separate standard should increase the number of smallholders included in the RSPO sustainable supply chains.

For more information please read the RSPO press release. The new P&C can be found here.