Studying the Impact of RSPO Certification on Palm Oil Workers

Dr Joel David Moore, from the School of Arts and Social Sciences, Monash University Malaysia, recently received a coveted industry grant by the Roundtable of Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). With this, he and his team endeavour to research the impact the organisation and its certification have on the working conditions for palm oil workers.

The research is highly timely, as palm oil is a major, yet controversial commodity in global trade. Increasingly, the discussion about the industry is mired with criticisms on practices that result in negative environmental and social implications. This is despite the established influence of the RSPO. As part of the effort to encourage sustainable production and work environments, the organisation provides a set of stringent criteria that palm oil companies must comply with to produce Certified Sustainable Palm Oil (CSPO).

Currently, the not-for-profit has over 4,300 members and certified growers, producing 14.29 million tonnes of CSPO; this accounts for roughly 19% of total global palm oil production. However, its particular impact on ensuring dignified livelihoods for palm oil workers is still relatively unknown. Broken into three phases, Dr Moore and his team will use a mixed method approach to uncover the extent RSPO certification has influenced this issue.

After consulting with stakeholder companies and non-governmental organisations, the research team will speak with and collect data from workers in the industry. The data will provide a clearer picture of how RSPO certification has improved palm oil workers’ livelihoods, wellbeing and rights.

This research has the potential to add to the on-going discussion to ensure this significant industry produces a commodity that utilises sustainable practices and ensures more equitable outcomes for workers.