competition act

Sustainable palm oil - RSPO vs Greenpeace, Greenpeace targets, French nutrition policy, Club of Rome

On the recent RSPO meeting in Europe, interesting excerpts include the following, and we put contextual comments in blue:

the (palm oil) sector needs "violent endangerment" to keep the debate going

Marks & Spencer's sustainable development manager Fiona Wheatley: "food businesses and consumers didn't understand the impact emerging economics could fact if pressures to source 100% sustainable palm oil built too quickly... (RSPO) has created a lifeline between partners who have had not contact before... some companies and brands (are looking) for alternative partnerships[1]...  we need to make sure we have a stronger standard... we sometimes need those different opinions and a bit of violent endangerment to keep things moving... and aspirations high..." - this seems to refer to the RSPO vs TFT-Greenpeace competition over market share in sustainability programs. This has even resulted in RSPO issuing an open letter to ask TFT to collaborate with them. It is interesting that a duopoly in non-Europe biofuel certification is not thought well of and the monopolistic approach is preferred (different from what is seen in soy sustainability). Here RSPO's call for TFT collaboration:  and Mongabay talks about it here:

Cynthia Ong of Land Empowerment Animals and People: "pressures from western (NGOs) such as Greenpeace, were frustrating producers in Malaysia and Indonesia... communities say they want to plant oil palm because it will put food on their tables and the best option we can present them is RSPO certification - ditto

Pat Vendetti, Greenpeace senior forest campaigner: "our focus is on ending deforestation and not tearing down the palm oil industry and the RSPO... another myth is there's a neo-colonial plot.. it's too convenient an excuse for the Malaysian government to trot out...we need to change the mind-set of the Malaysian government..." - sustainability is widely viewed from industry as a non-tariff barrier and it has raised such concerns that the WTO is trying to define "private standards" and that the UN is also looking it; as they note that these typically end up disadvantaging small and marginal producers.

Puvan Selvanathan, UN global compact head of sustainable agriculture (former Sime Darby): "all of the energy we put into debate.. could be better spent looking for a solution.. the message of doing a good thing is being lost in the heat and the emotion. It's a tough sell to have one group of people to tell you how to live your life..."  - in palm oil sustainability, the approach has been driven more by corporate to NGO negotiations (this differs from soy, where there is more government and industry association mediation, on the buy as well as the sell side). Although it is labelled as multi-stakeholder, there are some gaps: a) government is not involved, resulting in problematic differences in the private standard versus regulations and laws; and b) practitioners tell us that actual workings of working groups is that a handful of companies may represent the industry but with few updates to all fellow members, resulting in surprise new major policy administrative changes. Specialists reckon that NGOs set more dedicated resources to these negotiations than does the palm oil industry. Also, some point to the tendency that controversial topics (that growers disfavor) are escalated until they end up offered for General Assembly voting (where voting numbers and blocs are against growers); giving a sense of powerlessness to the minority growers who bear the cost of compliance. Notwithstanding these concerns, lead palm oil industry companies, especially those based in Malaysia and Singapore are leading the push for sustainable certification via RSPO or the new TFT non-certification program.

Robert Hoster, Cargill Refined Oils Europe trading director: "the whole chain needed to be involved in sustainable palm oil from the start.. we need to make sure we make sustainability more affordable.. we need to ensure its cost effective to grow..."  - this might refer to the approach taken by private standards to engage with corporations in order to effect faster change and the problem of the low level engagements with government. This is starting to worry politicians as sustainability is reaching the stage that large private standards and their commercial partners are pointing toward supply-chain shifts that may marginalize and/or bring complicated and costly certification to smallholders and farmers with small estates; note Australia beef worries here, /khorreports-palmoil/2014/05/politicians-worry-about-wwf-roundtables.html. Clearly they are an important voting base. We also heard earlier in the year that proposals by a smallholder certifying "technical NGO" to introduce loans to Indonesian palm smallholders (so that they can pay for the certification process and more?) has raised concerns among policy makers there. Cost of certification is a prime concern for small producers where it weighs heavier. For example, the RSPO costing for group smallholder includes some fees of US$10,000 periodically. It would be useful for the cost-benefit for smallholders to be reviewed independently.

 News link:

Greenpeace indicates its latest strategy and targets here, - Annisa Rahmawati is a forest campaigner at Greenpeace Southeast Asia: "Business as usual cannot continue - Greenpeace is deeply concerned that well-known players in the RSPO are pretending membership alone confers a glow of sustainability. It is waiting to see what public action the RSPO will take on the cases raised with it and how it will strengthen its standards.... In the meantime, Greenpeace demands prominent RSPO members including IOI, KLK, Musim Mas, RGE group and Sime Darby to stop the bulldozers and urgently implement a no deforestation policy. It will continue to push more palm oil consumers such as Kao (the Japanese personal care company behind brands such as John Frieda and Bioré) and others to clean up their supply chains.... To reach this tipping point has not been easy. Some elements want to portray the shift to responsible palm as an attack on the palm oil industry itself, as a call to boycott palm oil or a form or "green protectionism". To them, Greenpeace says this: don't ignore the crisis – don't ignore the fact that Sumatra is burning and Papua's pristine forests are disappearing. Recognise there is a problem, and choose to be part of the solution. Palm oil can be grown responsibly, and must make a genuine contribution to Indonesia's development."

At the same time, new proposals on French nutrition policy worries palm oil interests: "two French politicians, Senator Yves Daudigny and Senator Catherine Deroche, which is set to pose a major threat to Malaysia’s top commodity export in Europe, according to palm oil industry market observers.... Both Daudigny and Deroche had presented a report to the French Senate calling for an introduction of “behavioural” taxes on food and beverages deemed dangerous to the public health in France.... Nutella is a chocolate and hazelnut spread made by Italian company Ferrero that is extremely popular in France, which accounts for 26% (about 100 million jars) of the product’s world consumption.... However, thanks to the quick action and successful engagements by the Malaysian government and palm oil industry players, the Nutella tax proposal was gunned down in December 2012.... So this year, Daudigny is trying a new attempt to champion his cause by roping in Deroche to propose that all taxes of vegetable oils in France be “harmonised”....

On the big picture, it's interesting to see this:  Scientists vindicate 'Limits to Growth' – urge investment in 'circular economy';

Australia resource industries seek ban of market boycotts (update 1)

3 May 2014:

Ben & Jerry's referred to consumer watchdog over save-the-reef campaign;, Friday 2 May 2014 06.58 BST;; Ice-cream company’s ‘mistruths could cost jobs’, says Queensland LNP senator elect who has written to the ACCC; "Queensland LNP senator elect Matthew Canavan said he wrote to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) on Tuesday to consider the company’s conduct... “Australia has strict laws to protect consumers against misleading and deceptive behaviour,” he said. “These mistruths could cost jobs and development in regional Queensland. It’s irresponsible behaviour from a company that should know better.”.. The Queensland premier Campbell Newman also said on Thursday: “The World Wildlife Fund can make such false assertions, so be it. But a company is bound by consumer law and can’t make false and misleading statements and they are making false and misleading statements when it comes to this.”...

3 April 2014

Australian government may ban environmental boycotts; Guardian Australia: Parliamentary secretary says there is 'an appetite' for removing environmental groups' exemption from secondary boycotts ban; Thursday 3 April 2014; "Coalition MPs and industry groups are using a review of competition laws to push for a ban on campaigns against companies on the grounds that they are selling products that damage the environment, for example by using old-growth timber or overfished seafood....  Groups including the Australian Forest Products Association and parts of the seafood industry are also preparing submissions to the review arguing that environmental campaigns against companies selling products made from native timbers or “unsustainable” fishing amount to a “secondary boycott” and should be unlawful....  But the new state Liberal government intends to undo the forest “peace deal”, expand sawlog production and stop environmental campaigns through tough new state laws aimed at protesters. It is also lobbying the federal government for a change to competition laws to stop market-based campaigns.... Colbeck said he would be suggesting a further change to competition law to increase the power of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission to police general claims made by environmental groups about particular types of products “to ensure that they are truthful”.... “They can say what they like, they can campaign about what they like, they can have a point of view, but they should not be able to run a specific business-focused or market-focused campaign, and they should not be able to say things that are not true,” he said.... Groups like GetUp! and Markets for Change are currently exempt from section 45D of the Consumer and Competition Act which prohibits actions that stop a third person buying goods from another....

Tasmanian forests set for logging as Liberals push ahead with repeal; State government unveils plan to tear up historic deal between industry and greens protecting 400,000 hectares of forest; Australian Associated Press;, Tuesday 8 April 2014;

Khor Reports comment: Interesting to see a possible push back from Australia industry, state and federal government over market boycott campaigns by domestic NGOs. In contrast, palm oil has been facing significant market campaigns, but at a transnational level. Actions have been taken by palm oil producers in the French trade tribunal, for instance, but negative market actions continued and the number of products affected continued to rise. Also interesting that this is the second time in as many months that we read of a competition act possibly used in relation to the sustainability issue.