Roundtable for Sustainable Palmoil: The permission of highly hazardous pesticides puts the health of plantation workers at risk

Zurich/ Geneva, 30.11.2012 - The Berne Declaration and the IUF are calling for fundamental changes to proposed «Principles and Criteria for Sustainable Palm Oil Production» which would still permit the use of highly toxic pesticides that are extremely harmful to human health and the environment. In their proposed form, the revised criteria ensure the interests of the pesticide industry – members of the initiative - rather than the health of palm oil plantation workers. They will not encourage sustainable production and must therefore be dramatically improved.

The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) is to revise their principles and criteria for sustainable palm oil production. The Public Consultation of the Draft Revised RSPO Principles and Criteria (P&C) ends today. It is planned that an extraordinary General Assembly will approve the revised Principles and Criteria in March/April 2013. The Berne Declaration and the IUF have sent in their comments 3) on the P&C and ask for a fundamental change regarding the use of highly hazardous pesticides.

According to the revised P&C even the most hazardous pesticides could still be used. A sustainable production standard as the RSPO should ban highly problematic pesticides. The current and the proposed requirement is weak, vague and not aiming at any improvement.

In the currently valid P&C, approved in 2007 it was stated that: “RSPO will urgently identify safe and cost effective alternatives to replace chemicals that are categorised as World Health Organisation Type 1A or 1B, or listed by the Stockholm or Rotterdam Conventions, and paraquat.” This was never done and it shows the lacking commitment to protect worker’s health. While several oil palm producers have shown that alternatives for hazardous pesticides exist, RSPO listens to backward oriented producers and the chemical industry.

One of these pesticides – paraquat – is widely used on oil palm plantations and known to poison thousands of plantation workers and small farmers every year. The European Union and several other countries have already banned the substance due to health reasons. The big majority of known labels and criteria in the agricultural sector that certify sustainable production have explicitly ruled out the use of the most highly toxic pesticides including paraquat.

Agricultural workers’ unions across the world, headed by the International Union of Food and Agricultural Workers (IUF), have been calling for a paraquat ban for years. «The RSPO's position on paraquat is just one of the many reasons we have for believing that the RSPO is just a greenwash for the palm oil industry. Research shows crops can be produced without paraquat but RSPO continues to sanction its use because that is what the industry wants» commented Ron Oswald, IUF General Secretary.
«If the use of highly hazardous pesticides like paraquat is allowed in the future the RSPO will lose the little remains of its credibility. Sustainability has to be founded on human rights. This is also valid for the human right to health for plantation workers» says François Meienberg from the Berne Declaration.

The International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers' Associations (IUF) is an international trade union federation composed of 353 trade unions in 125 countries with an affiliated membership of over 2.7 million members. It is based in Geneva, Switzerland.