One of the main aims of the Forum for Sustainable Palm Oil is to improve the certification systems, because some members do not regard them as satisfactory. The existing standards can be considered adequate in that they define minimum requirements for sustainable palm oil production. Nevertheless, all the certification schemes are in need of improvement, particularly with regard to transparency and specific criteria for production and the sustainability of the supply chain. FONAP and its members therefore seek to exert influence on the existing systems and draw up proposals for developing and improving them. Because the certification systems recognised by FONAP do not yet meet all the criteria for improvement, FONAP members have voluntarily accepted add-on criteria. These add-on criteria are described in more detail below:
In areas around the equator, oil palms are often grown on valuable peatlands. These peat soils store large quantities of carbon dioxide. According to a study by Rhein (2015), drying peatlands releases five to six times as much carbon dioxide as clearing tropical rainforests. The countries most affected are Indonesia and Malaysia. In 2014, around 20 per cent of all oil palm plantations in Malaysia were sited on drained moorlands (Wetlands International 2010, cf. Chin 2011), while this figure was as high as 25 per cent of all plantations in Indonesia (Brandi et al. 2013). As a result of this problem, FONAP is calling for a clear and complete ban on palm oil plantations on peatlands in order to curb the huge release of greenhouse gases and to preserve the environmental benefits of peatlands. As this is not currently covered by the existing standards , however, FONAP's members are striving to ensure that the palm oil used in their supply chains was not grown on peatlands or other areas with a high carbon content, such as wetlands and secondary forests.
In view of the risks to human health and the environment associated with pesticides, FONAP aims to achieve a ban on the use of highly hazardous pesticides in palm oil production. This particularly applies to the herbicide paraquat, the pesticides listed in the annexes to the Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions and those classified by the World Health Organization (WHO) as 'extremely hazardous' (WHO class Ia) or 'highly hazardous' (WHO class Ib). The highly toxic substance paraquat causes damage to the kidneys, liver and respiratory system and may cause cancer and trigger Parkinson's disease (Rainforest Rescue, 2013). Paraquat has thus been banned in a number of countries, now also including Malaysia. In Indonesia, however, the world's largest palm oil producer, it is still used as a pesticide in palm oil production (Knoke and Inkermann 2015). To address this problem, the member companies of FONAP are holding regular talks with their suppliers in an effort to ensure that no highly hazardous pesticides are used in the palm oil they purchase.
Global palm oil production plays a major role in large amounts of carbon dioxide being released from carbon sinks. In 2015, Indonesia was the world's fourth largest emitter of greenhouse gases, for instance. Almost 80 per cent of the emissions were caused by deforestation, slash-and-burn farming, land-use changes and peatland drainage (Rhein 2015). As the reduction of greenhouse gases has not yet been defined as a goal in all the certification systems, the market for palm oil plays a key role in the push to reduce emissions. The FONAP members are already calling on their palm oil-producing suppliers to reduce greenhouse gases and are holding in-depth talks with them to this end.
Most of the mills use certified and conventional fresh fruit bunches (FFBs). This allows mills to produce certified palm oil using the mass balance method. However, conventional palm oil is not traceable, which means that FFBs from illegal sources might enter the supply chain, in other words FFBs grown and harvested on areas not approved for growing oil palms. All producers, whether they be large plantation operators or small-scale farmers, must be able to demonstrate the relevant land rights for those areas of land that they use for growing oil palms. Moreover, they may on no account use slash-and-burn methods on these areas and must carry out active environmental management. Oil palms may also not be grown in high conservation value areas or on peatlands up to a certain depth. If producers do not comply with these regulations, the cultivation of oil palms on these areas is defined as being illegal. The problem is that FFBs from illegal sources are still entering the supply chains of certified companies unhindered through independent third parties such as suppliers and intermediaries and are subsequently processed.
A coalition of various non-governmental organisations called Eyes on the Forest observed the supply chain of illegally produced FFBs in the Riau province in Indonesia between 2012 and 2014. The FFBs were grown within a high conservation value area and supplied to crude palm oil (CPO) mills and refineries. The palm oil produced was thus able to enter the supply chains of palm oil suppliers with global operations. A lack of responsible governance and limited enforcement of legal regulations in Indonesia are thus conducive to large-scale illegal deforestation and the creation of illegal palm oil plantations (Eyes on the Forest 2016). According to the Indonesian Forestry Minister, 50 per cent of all palm oil plantations in Riau province were illegal in 2014 (ANTARA News 2014). In order to address the problem of the illegal cultivation of FFBs by small-scale farmers, FONAP has adopted an add-on criterion that even the non-certified FFBs obtained by certified palm oil mills must be from legal sources only.