In 2001, WWF commenced exploring the possibilities for a Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil. The result was an informal co-operation among Aarhus United UK Ltd, Migros, Malaysian Palm Oil Association and Unilever together with WWF in 2002. A preparatory meeting was held in London on 20 September 2002 and this was followed by a meeting in Gland on 17 December 2002. These organizations constituted themselves as an Organizing Committee to organize the first Roundtable meeting and to prepare the foundation for the organizational and governance structure for the formation of the RSPO.

The inaugural meeting of the Roundtable took place in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on 21 - 22 August 2003 and was attended by 200 participants from 16 countries. The key output from this meeting was the adoption of the Statement of Intent (SOI) which is a non-legally binding expression of support for the Roundtable process. As of 31 August 2004, forty seven organisations have signed the SOI.

On 8 April 2004, the "Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO)," was formally established under Article 60 of the Swiss Civil Code with a governance structure that ensures fair representation of all stakeholders throughout the entire supply chain. The seat of the association is in Zurich, Switzerland, the Secretariat is based in Kuala Lumpur with a RSPO Liaison office in Jakarta.