Malaysian media headline: Aidenvironment in IOI Settlement – RSPO to Launch Improved Complaint Procedure

On 1 December 2016, Aidenvironment and palm oil company IOI issued their final Joint Statement declaring the Ketapang complaint case closed to the satisfaction of both parties. “We are relieved to close the case,” says Eric Wakker, co-founder of our Asia office. “Now we can explore working with IOI as a partner in the transformation of the palm oil industry.”

The complaint was not just between Aidenvironment and IOI. As a representative of one of Malaysia’s largest palm oil companies in Singapore said recently, “This case affected everyone in this industry: growers, traders, manufacturers, retailers, investors.…Everyone in this industry now realizes that all of us need to do things differently.”

Aidenvironment’s consultants have had their work cut out for them ever since they took up the palm oil dossier in the mid-1990s. “The 1997 fire outbreak in Indonesia really got it all started,” says Wakker. “Back then, the Dutch public donated a lot of money to put an end to orangutans being burned alive in the trees. But people were unaware that the fast food they ate the same day was the driver of this destruction.”

“The IOI case was just one of a dozen RSPO complaint cases that we backed in the early days.” Having learned from the dialogue with Wilmar in 2007, the ‘Too Green to be True’ report on IOI was purposely designed to raise questions in an open-ended, constructive manner. But in May 2012, RSPO summarily dismissed the Ketapang case without justification, offering no opportunity for appeal. After the initial shock, Eric realized that testing and improving a crooked system was our goal all along!

It took over 6 years to create the conditions for a six-month dialogue on the case. Although the final settlement took just a few days to negotiate, the full implications for Aidenvironment, IOI and the wider RSPO community are far more valuable and long-lasting. In 2013, an overwhelming majority of the RSPO membership adopted a resolution to reform the complaint system, and in 2015 a similar mandate was given to assure quality in auditing.

“During the last Roundtable meeting in Bangkok the RSPO Secretariat faced broad criticism that it had been too slow to implement reforms,” says Eric. “While it is sometimes hard to determine the boundaries between complexity and incompetency, we had received firm evidence that our case against IOI was subject to undue influence. This happened just before the Roundtable in Thailand, so we drew the line: If RSPO failed to acknowledge the lessons learned from our seven-year journey, Aidenvironment would leave the RSPO.

“When Reuters broke this news, I received text messages that suggested the RSPO boardroom had heated up considerably. The following day, Aidenvironment and IOI each expressed their frustrations to RSPO’s management and offered directions for improvement. After the meeting, I decided that we would retain our seat in RSPO and await RSPO’s revised Integrated Complaint Procedure.

“When reviewing the public draft end of November, I realized that we had finally been heard. RSPO’s new complaint procedure includes an appeal mechanism, integrates various trajectories for complaints, and allows – although under limited terms – parties to present their case in front of the Complaint Panel. These are serious improvements and we have thanked the RSPO Secretariat for that.”

Aidenvironment has worked to transform the palm oil industry since 1997. A selection of case studies published in 2016:

The IOI case gave Aidenvironment widespread media exposure in Malaysia:

For more information, please contact Eric Wakker.