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By Devane Sharma

All companies that use palm oil are increasingly pressured to ensure that their supply chains are sustainable and not contributing to deforestation and the conversion of natural ecosystems. They also have a responsibility to show that the supply chains do not negatively impact local indigenous populations and workers.

In response to the need for credibility and traceability in palm oil sustainability claims, voluntary standards  have been established. The most prominent one is the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). There are also other initiatives such as Palm Oil Innovation Group (POIG), among others.

As a voluntary standard with the widest global reach for end-consumers, this article will focus on certification by the RSPO.

RSPO certification consists of three standards: The Principles and Criteria (P&C), the Independent Smallholder Standard, and the Supply Chain Certification Standard. All standards involve certification by third-party certification bodies.

The RSPO P&C provides principles, criteria, and indicators for the sustainable production of palm oil. Plantations and mills that adhere to this set of guidelines are certified under this standard. Given that countries have different laws, such as minimum wages, the RSPO P&C is further adapted for use by each country through National Interpretations (NI). This harmonizes the voluntary RSPO standard with national laws.

Independent Smallholders can choose to apply for certification under a separate standard specific to the needs and challenges of independent oil palm farmers.

Finally, a Supply Chain Certification ensures credibility through the supply chain. This helps end-consumers trust that the palm oil being sold as sustainable in the products they purchase has indeed been produced by certified growers.

Under the Supply Chain Certification, there are Trademark Labels to help the consumer identify certified sustainable palm oil.

RSPO Trademark Labels

The following RSPO Trademark labels are what you might find on consumer goods, including food products and household or personal care items. Note that RSPO logos used should always be accompanied by a trademark license number as outlined by the RSPO Rules of Market Communications and Claims.

Identity Preserved & Segregated

Products with this label contain palm oil that can be traced back to RSPO-certified mills and plantations. Under the Segregated Supply Chain Model, this can be traced to multiple RSPO-certified mills or supply bases, and under the Identity Preserved model, the palm oil can be traced directly to the RSPO-certified plantation where the oil palm was grown.

Mass Balance

Products with this label use a mix of certified and uncertified palm oil, both monitored by volume and counts only the certified volume as sustainable. For example, a mill may produce 100 tonnes of certified oil, and 50 tonnes of uncertified oil. Both are processed together in the mill and of the 150 tonnes at the end, only 100 tonnes is then sold on as certified sustainable palm oil.

Some producers opt for this method as not all the palm oil plantations in their area may be producing certified sustainable palm oil but it allows them to monitor sustainable palm oil production by volume and helps keep their supply chains flexible.

RSPO Credits

Products with this label do not necessarily contain certified sustainable palm oil but support the production of sustainable palm oil.

Some certified palm oil mills and producers may sell their palm oil and its derivatives as Credits through a virtual platform called PalmTrace. Manufacturers or retailers can then purchase these Credits to cover for the palm oil used in their products where they do not have sufficient availability of physical certified sustainable palm oil. This method is especially useful to support certified smallholder farmers who may not have access to certified supply chains.


Given the complexity of the supply chains, RSPO Trademark labels offer palm oil producers and manufacturers  the flexibility to sell sustainable palm oil products based on the various needs of a  global environment.

At the heart of it all is ensuring consumers can access certified sustainable palm oil that is free from deforestation and exploitation. The greater the adoption of certified sustainable palm oil by consumers, the more producers will be incentivized to produce certified sustainable palm oil.