Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil MSPO Review
The Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil (MSPO) certification is calling for first ever public comments on its standards. In an on-going drive towards global acceptance of the certification scheme, the governing body for the MSPO, which is the Malaysian Palm Oil Certification Council (MPOCC), has created a public input period from August 01,2019 to September 30, 2019. Information from the MPOCC’s website on the review reads as:
“The MSPO Standards, MS2530:2013 series and the Supply Chain Certification Standard used under the MSPO Certification Scheme is a set of national standards that addresses sustainability and traceability requirements of the oil palm industry in Malaysia.
In line with the guiding principles of the Standard Setting and Review Procedure adopted by the Malaysian Palm Oil Certification Council (MPOCC), the MSPO Standards (MS2530:2013 series and Supply Chain Certification Standard) used under the MSPO certification scheme, is now due for systematic review. This is to ensure continued relevance and effectiveness in meeting the stated sustainability objectives of the Standards.”
More information on the standard settings of the MSPO can be seen on this link.
A national standard for Malaysian palm oil
First introduced in 2015, the MSPO was declared as a mandatory certification scheme for all Malaysian palm oil production in 2017. An aggressive schedule was then set for the complete certification of all palm oil operations by 2020. This might have been too aggressive as the planted acreage of 5.8 million hectares includes some 500,000 smallholders.
Total certified areas and operations as of early August 2019 is 41.9% as reported on the MPOCC website. The certification process got off to a fast start as the MSPO acknowledged other palm oil certification schemes, including the RSPO, by waiving the requirement for a Stage 1 Audit for operations already certified by other certification schemes. Certifying the rest of Malaysia’s palm oil industry may not be as easy especially for the small to medium growers which form an estimated 40% of Malaysia’s palm oil production.
Nonetheless, the owners of the certification scheme, the MPOCC has called for a standards review as it seeks global acceptance of its certificates.
Europe and Japan in its sights
The key goal for the MSPO is for acceptance by the European Union and the Japanese market for biofuels which is increasingly demanding that Japanese imports of palm oil for biofuels be certified.
Towards that end, the MPOCC conducted an “assessment of the robustness of the MSPO” against that of the ISCC in early 2018 to find out where the gaps or shortfalls of the certification scheme are in order to meet global requirements for sustainable palm oil.
Independent reviews or comparisons of the MSPO certification scheme against other schemes, notably the better known RSPO, have been made by groups including EFECA, WWF etc. Having monitored the MSPO scheme since its inception in 2015, these are our recommendations for the MSPO if it wants to be recognized as a credible certificate globally.
Recommendations to improve credibility of MSPO
1.Transparency in traceability should be the top priority for the MSPO.
- The presentation of information pertaining to certified areas or companies on the MPOCC website is decent as the list is detailed. However, being able to connect individual plantations or mills to supply sources of Malaysian palm oil is impossible at the moment. As it works on its Supply Chain Certification System, the MSPO through its scheme owner, the MPOCC, should introduce an interactive platform on its website where searches for companies or mills can be done with ease.
- The current information access is too limited in this day and age of interactivity. Having to identify a location by scrolling through its long list of certified areas and then, searching on-line for supporting information cannot be acceptable. With all the apps and web tools available, the MPOCC has to make it simple for netizens to access information with a few clicks ON THE MPOCC website instead of having to search elsewhere for information.
- For Point 1 to be meaningful, locations in the way of a comprehensive map would be useful. It is one thing to be able to call out for example, company ABC Palm Oil Sdn Bhd. for violations against MSPO standards but where exactly did the violation happen? A published map would allow easy tracing to mills to see if there is MSPO leakage into an otherwise sustainable supply.
- Mapping of palm oil plantations in Malaysia has been said to be corporate or state secrets but if the MSPO is to be credible, these maps are a must for several reasons. For starters, with satellite mapping available to anyone with a computer and a Google account, exposing canopy change can be as simple as checking a region periodically while keeping image records. Satellite evidence of canopy change may only tell one part of the story, that being forest disturbance but it does not tell the complete story on why the forest was disturbed. That disturbance, however, may be enough for NGOs to associate it with palm oil as Malaysia’s main agricultural commodity. Lastly, and this is a point that will serve to support the Malaysian palm oil industry’s argument that it is not the cause of deforestation, is the ability of maps to prove that much of its current palm oil areas are from brown fields or converted farmlands.
- This maybe the toughest challenge for the MSPO. As an independent certification scheme, albeit one that has the support of the Malaysian government, it is nevertheless one that may not have enough influence over decisions on land use by state governments.
- Malaysia is made up of thirteen states with varying degrees of development. Poorer states including Kelantan, Pahang or Perak are working through various stages of development.
- The Borneo states of Sabah and Sarawak have an even greater say on land use matters. Sarawak in particular, with its large low lying peat land areas needs to be addressed especially in light of the EU’s concerns on carbon-rich peat lands. A clear policy statement is needed on peat lands which ideally, would prohibit any new developments even if the area is degraded.
- As a semi-governmental body, the MPOCC can only do so much to influence land use policy. Yet, if it is to be recognized globally as a certification body for sustainable palm oil, it has to use every resource and political tie available, to work with the different states to address the key issues that define sustainable palm oil, the dominant issue being conservation. It may be only one industry out of several that affects conservation areas in Malaysia but as a primary industry, it has to strive towards the overall conservation needs of Malaysia by strengthening projects like those of the Malaysian Palm Oil Council Wildlife Fund.
- This is a need as a recent study by the University of York has shown that connected forest networks are essential to protecting endangered species. The study may fall short in the case of Malaysia where other industries control as much landscape as palm oil but it is a useful note to Malaysia that if it wants its palm oil certificates to be recognized globally. It will have to use its influence to create these large connected conservation areas with the engagement of state governments and other industries.
These are tall asks of the MSPO as no certification system for palm oil has been able to achieve all these requirements for sustainability in palm oil. As with all things, the first step towards achieving goals are stated policies. As the standards review continues for the MSPO, it would be a positive first step for the certification scheme to include the key points of transparency and NDPE into policy.
What are your thoughts on the matter? If you have something to say but the MSPO review process is too much, please share your thoughts by taking part in our survey on what the MSPO should adopt into its policies.
Click Here to Take the CSPO Watch Survey on MSPO Standards
Published September 2019. CSPO Watch