As another hazy dry season looks set to loom across Southeast Asia, the latest SPOTT assessments find palm oil producers and traders varying in their commitments to combating fires and ensuring sustainability. While some companies are making positive progress in disclosing critically important information, many could be far more ambitious in making stronger and wider commitments to manage risks such as deforestation and human rights abuses.

ZSL’s SPOTT initiative conducts assessments for 50 of the world’s largest palm oil producers and traders, including big players such as Astra Agro Lestari, Sime Darby and Wilmar International. SPOTT assesses these companies against a revised framework of 125 indicators using publicly available data on environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues.

Each company receives a total percentage score based on the indicators that apply to their operations, along with scores breaking down performance against the following 10 categories:

Sustainability policy and leadership

1. Sustainable palm oil policy or commitment for all its operations
2. Policy or commitment applies to direct and third-party suppliers
3. High-level position of responsibility for sustainability
4. Sustainability report published within last two years
5. Member of industry schemes or other external initiatives to improve sustainability or transparency
6. Verification report on compliance with Palm Oil Innovation Group (POIG) Charter, if a POIG member
7. Activities with government and/or non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to improve sustainability

Landbank, maps and traceability

8. Total land area managed/controlled for oil palm in hectares (ha)
9. Total oil palm planted area (ha)
10. Plasma/scheme smallholders planted area (ha)
11. Unplanted (areas designated for future planting)(ha)
12. Conservation set-aside area, including High Conservation Value (HCV) area (ha)
13. Area for infrastructure (ha)
14. Number of company owned mills
15. Maps of company owned mills
16. Number and names of supplying mills
17. Maps of estates/management units
18. Maps of scheme/plasma smallholders
19. Time-bound commitment to achieve 100% traceability to mill level
20. Time-bound commitment to achieve 100% traceability to plantation level
21. Percentage of supply traceable to mill level
22. Percentage of fresh fruit bunches (FFB) from own mills traceable to plantation level
23. Percentage of FFB from supplying mills traceable to plantation level

Deforestation and biodiversity

24. Commitment to address deforestation
25. Commitment to zero deforestation
26. Commitment applies to scheme smallholders and independent suppliers
27. Criteria for defining deforestation
28. Evidence of monitoring deforestation
29. Commitment to set aside areas for conservation
30. Evidence of habitat management and/or habitat restoration of set-aside areas
31. A landscape-level approach
32. Commitment to biodiversity conservation within concessions
33. Commitment to not endanger species of conservation concern, referencing international or national system of species classification
34. Commitment to no hunting or only sustainable hunting of species
35. Commitment not to operate within internationally and nationally designated protected areas
36. Evidence of species conservation

HCV, HCS and impact assessments

37. Commitment to High Conservation Value (HCV) approach
38. Commitment to only use licensed HCV assessors accredited by the HCV Resource Network’s Assessor Licensing Scheme (ALS)
39. Commitment applies to scheme smallholders and independent suppliers
40. HCV assessments undertaken between November 2005 and December 2014, and management and monitoring plans
41. HCV assessments for all estates planted since January 2015
42. HCV management and monitoring plans for all estates planted since January 2015
43. Satisfactory review of all HCV assessments undertaken since January 2016 by the HCV ALS Quality Panel
44. Commitment to the High Carbon Stock (HCS) approach
45. HCS assessments
46. Commitment to conduct social and environmental impact assessments (SEIAs)
47. SEIAs undertaken since November 2005, and management and monitoring plans

Peat, fire and GHG emissions

48. Commitment to no planting on peat of any depth
49. Commitment applies to scheme smallholders and independent suppliers
50. Commitment to best management practices for soils and/or peat
51. Landbank or planted area on peat (ha)
52. Evidence of best management practices for soils and/or peat
53. Commitment to zero burning
54. Commitment applies to scheme smallholders and independent suppliers
55. Evidence of management and monitoring fires
56. Details/number of hotspots/fires in company estates
57. Details/number of hotspots/fires within surrounding landscape/smallholders
58. Time-bound commitment to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions
59. Commitment applies to scheme smallholders and independent suppliers
60. GHG emissions
61. GHG emissions from land use change
62. Methodology used to calculate GHG emissions
63. Progress towards commitment to reduce GHG emissions
64. Percentage of mills with methane capture

Water, chemical and pest management

65. Commitment to manage water use and water quality
66. Time-bound commitments to improve water use and water quality
67. Progress towards commitment on water use
68. Progress towards commitment on water quality
69. Protection of natural waterways through buffer zones
70. Evidence of treating palm oil mill effluent (POME)
71. Commitment to minimise the use of chemicals, including pesticides and chemical fertilisers
72. No use of paraquat
73. No use of World Health Organisation (WHO) Class 1A and 1B pesticides
74. No use of chemicals listed under the Stockholm Convention and Rotterdam Convention
75. Integrated Pest Management (IPM) approach
76. Chemical usage per ha or list of chemicals used

Community, land and labour rights

77. Commitment to human rights, referencing the United Nations (UN) Declaration of Human Rights or UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights
78. Commitment to respect legal and customary land tenure rights
79. Commitment to respect indigenous and local communities’ rights
80. Commitment to free, prior and informed consent (FPIC)
81. Commitment applies to independent suppliers
82. Free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) process
83. Process for addressing land conflicts
84. Commitment to ensure food security for local communities
85. Commitment to respect workers’ rights, including all workers (i.e. direct, indirect, migrant, temporary, casual, etc.)
86. Reference to International Labour Organisation (ILO) Fundamental Conventions or Free and Fair Labour Principles
87. Total number of employees
88. Percentage of temporary employees
89. Percentage of women employees
90. Minimum wage that the company pays
91. Commitment to address occupational health and safety
92. Lost time accident rate
93. Number of fatalities as a result of work-based accidents
94. Provision of personal protective equipment and pesticide training

Certification standards

95. Member of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO)
96. Submitted most recent RSPO Annual Communication of Progress (ACOP)
97. Listed all countries and regions in which it operates in most recent RSPO Annual Communication of Progress (ACOP)
98. Time-bound plan for achieving 100% RSPO certification of estates within five years or achieved 100% RSPO-certification of estates
99. Time-bound plan for achieving 100% RSPO certification of scheme/associated smallholders within five years or achieved 100% RSPO-certification of scheme/associated smallholders
100. Time-bound plan for achieving 100% RSPO certification of all supply chains
101. RSPO-certified within three years of joining the RSPO or by November 2010, for companies joining prior to finalisation of the RSPO certification systems in November 2007
102. Percentage of mills RSPO-certified
103. Percentage of area (ha) RSPO-certified
104. Percentage of FFB supply from scheme/associated smallholders that is RSPO-certified
105. Percentage of FFB supply from independent FFB suppliers that is RSPO-certified
106. Percentage of all palm oil and oil palm products handled/traded/processed that are RSPO-certified
107. Sells or processes/trades RSPO-certified palm oil through Segregated or Identity Preserved supply chains
108. Indonesia Sustainable Palm Oil (ISPO) certified
109. Malaysia Sustainable Palm Oil (MSPO) certified
110. Certified under voluntary sustainability certification scheme (e.g. ISCC, SAN, RSB, etc.)

Smallholders and suppliers

111. Programme to support scheme smallholders
112. Details of support programme for scheme smallholders
113. Number or percentage of scheme smallholders involved in programme
114. Programme to support independent smallholders
115. Details of support programme for independent smallholders
116. Number or percentage of independent smallholders involved in programme
117. Process used to prioritise, assess and/or engage suppliers on compliance with company’s policy and/or legal requirements
118. Suspension or exclusion criteria for suppliers
119. Number or percentage of suppliers assessed and/or engaged

Governance and grievances

120. Commitment to ethical conduct and prohibition of corruption
121. Whistleblowing procedure
122. Own grievance or complaints system
123. Accessible to internal stakeholders (i.e. employees)
124. Accessible to external stakeholders
125. Grievances, if anonymity not requested, including the following details: date, issue, complainant category, actions taken, and status


As Indonesia enters its dry season, the polluting haze that sweeps over the region during this time is often attributed to fires started to clear land. Given estimates over 2.5 million hectares – 100 million tennis courts – of land burned in 2015, it is encouraging to see an increase in corporate “zero burning” policies and evidence of implementation. More widely, however, there is little evidence of companies monitoring and reporting on implementation of “zero deforestation” commitments, potentially placing valuable forests and carbon-rich peatlands at risk.

Companies also scored poorly on new biodiversity indicators, with many producers lacking commitments to protect habitats and endangered species, especially outside of conservation areas. Few companies have published time-bound plans on reducing their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and even fewer have public commitments to manage water responsibly.

In response to user needs and feedback, SPOTT assessments now score companies in more detail on social and governance issues, including policies on the fair treatment of workers, anti-corruption and whistleblowing. In obtaining free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) from local and indigenous communities affected by development, company policies lack detail in describing customary rights and to whom they apply. Not all of the companies have grievance processes in place, and few give details on the steps towards remediation.

ZSL’s palm oil technical advisor, Izabela Delabre, said: “We revised SPOTT’s indicators to provide a more comprehensive and in-depth analysis of corporate progress on addressing ESG issues, and to give more weight to the implementation of commitments. After sending companies their draft assessments last month, we have seen many of them showing eagerness to engage with us, as well as making subsequent disclosures of important sustainability information. We are observing a demonstrable increase in buy-in from top management with regard to ESG issues, and willingness to progress.”

Recently shortlisted for a Responsible Investor award, SPOTT also highlights recent media reports relevant to the assessments, in order to provide evidence of policy implementation and hold the industry to account.