Financial institutions step up action to improve RSPO uptake

6 November 2019

The implementation of RSPO and comparable sustainability norms to address biodiversity loss linked to palm oil is lagging behind. What is the role of the finance sector in the transition to a sustainable palm oil sector? During the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) in Bangkok on November 4, financial institutions, NGOs and other members of RSPO discussed the progress in palm oil policies of financial institutions and their implementation.

The event organized by IUCN NL together with Indonesian community rights group TUK Indonesia, Robeco and ABN Amro, focused not only on the roles of Dutch, European and global banks, but also looked at the role of Asian banks and regulators such as the Indonesian Financial Authority.

Engagement work in Asia

Speakers from TUK, Profundo, Aid Environment, WWF Indonesia, Credit Suisse, HSBC Bank, Robeco, ABN Amro and NN Invest shined a light on their policy and engagement work, and the financial institutions discussed their involvement in working groups of RSPO. “Thanks to engagement efforts, we notice some progress in Singaporean banks, and to certain extent steps towards environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) policies are made in Indonesian and Malaysian financial institutions,” says Heleen van den Hombergh, Senior Expert Agro-Commodities at IUCN NL. “However, it remains a challenge to engage with financial institutions in Asia and make tangible progress.”

Commitments to make sustainable palm oil the norm

During the event, the RSPO member financial institutions reinforced their shared responsibility to make sustainable palm oil the norm and made the following commitments:

  1. To promote sustainable palm oil to all players in the value chain;
  2. To engage with regulators and governments to support or require certified sustainable palm oil;
  3. To engage with peers, including (Asian) local and regional financial institutions to have palm oil relevant ESG policies in place;
  4. To provide incentives for good behavior, such as sustainability link loans with KPIs leading to discounts or premiums.

Stricter norms and assurance required

In addition to these commitments, Van den Hombergh stresses the need for improved assurance of sustainability standards for palm oil.

A benchmark report (IUCN NL, 2019) assessed the rigor of biodiversity and assurance requirements of the six sustainability standards with the largest market share in certified palm oil production. Although the report concluded that RSPO provides the best standard to protect biodiversity, RSPO should improve its assurance in practice, which still is a challenge. “This means, for example, better audits,” Van den Hombergh explains. “The audits need to be independent, and auditors should be allowed sufficient time to thouroughly assess the situation.”

Assurance is critical to mitigate risks

IUCN NL urges powerful stakeholders, including financial institutions, to really make assurance of sustainable palm oil work, not only by requiring the application of demanding standards such as RSPO, but also by actively providing sufficient resources to make it work better in practice. “This assurance is a crucial aspect of mitigating financial, legal, reputational and operational risk,” Van den Hombergh stresses.

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