Malaysia must make known its palm oil sustainability initiatives — experts

Malaysia must make known its palm oil sustainability initiatives — experts
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KUALA LUMPUR (June 30): International experts said Malaysia must aggressively communicate its palm oil sustainability initiatives, particularly the Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil (MSPO) certification scheme, in order to remove the commodity's high-risk status.

Declining to be named, these experts participated in a Malaysian Palm Oil Council (MPOC) webinar series entitled “Meeting the Challenge of Improving Labour Rights in the Malaysian Palm Oil Supply Chain” on Thursday (June 30), conducted under the Chatham House rule.

Under this ruling, participants are free to use the information but the identity and affiliation of the speakers remain anonymous. The purpose of the ruling is to encourage open discussion on complex matters.

One speaker said the MSPO certification scheme and other standards are “less known and understood” in Brussels and elsewhere.

“It's not only about trust but also about knowledge and awareness," the Brussels-based expert said during the webinar.

He emphasised the importance of making greater efforts to explain the MSPO certification scheme and its compliance mechanism, in order for Malaysia to gain the trust and acceptance of the European community.

"It is important, especially with the European Union (EU). We are now looking at the places of production, including the Global Positioning System coordinates, and a number of requirements we haven't seen before. Deforestation requirements and all (that is) under the Malaysian laws including labour, indigenous people, and social rights have been taken into consideration.

"In other words, the EU would take the liberty of interpreting Malaysian laws at the border. This can mean that a product that is actually legal in Malaysia, according to Malaysian laws, could (result in) a different interpretation by EU customs," he added.

In addition to EU’s hefty requirements, the economic bloc is expected to ratify its due diligence on corporate sustainability, which requires member states to impose a standard that is equivalent to, or higher than, the EU directive, he said.

"There is also a discussion on banning forced labour product inputs published sometime this year. Why make the process so complicated? Well, because it has been politically extremely controversial in Europe,” he said.

On one hand, EU member states and EU stakeholders would like to see an explicit direct ban and the European Commission president has pledged to make imports of forced labour products illegal and “this is as political as it can get,” the speaker said.

Meanwhile, in the context of the United States' treatment of Malaysia's palm oil, another speaker said it is important that Malaysia gets the content of standards right and ensure the audit of compliance is as thorough and as far-reaching as possible.

"The emphasis should not only be on Malaysian stakeholders, but also on the United States government,” he said.