Process Flow

Please click here to download the completre complaints procedure  flowchart    

3.1. Raising a case

Complainants need to provide the following information in writing, using the given template for submitting any complaints to RSPO. The onus of demonstrating a case at this stage is on the complainant:

a.   Name and contact details of the party submitting the complaint. If needed, explanations of
b.   Party against whom the complaint is being raised.
c.   Nature of the complaint, and on what basis (see above).
d.   Supporting evidence, including all possible documentation, etc. to directly support the complaint.
e.   Supporting information about efforts taken – but unsuccessful – to resolve the issue bilaterally or otherwise.

Additionally, complainants are encouraged to

f.   Propose or suggest specific corrective actions that may resolve the issues detailed in the complaint.

3.2. Receipt and Acknowledgement

The RSPO Secretariat is the point of entry for all complaints to be addressed through the RSPO Complaints System. Complaints entering via other points will be forwarded first to the Secretariat. The Secretariat receives all complaints submitted and in turn acknowledges its receipt to the complaining party, in writing, no later than ten working days after they have been received. The Secretariat has the right to return incomplete complaints to the submitting party, with an explanation of what is needed to constitute a complete submission that can then be further processed. Such complaints may be re-submitted at the complainant’s discretion, upon the receipt of which the Secretariat shall have another ten working days in which to acknowledge receipt. In all cases of receipt of a complete complaint, the Secretariat shall indicate as part of its acknowledgement to the complainant its initial determination of what category of complaint this is, and the next step(s) to be taken to address it.

The Secretariat is not required to accept cases that are not submitted in writing, but can address such non-written complaints at its discretion. In all cases the Secretariat keeps a record of all cases it addresses.

The RSPO Secretariat determines the need for any direct communications or actions e.g. a "holding statement" that publicly states that RSPO has received a complaint, is taking the issue seriously and will be looking into it as a matter of urgency through the RSPO systems. Such urgent communications may be needed especially in case of reported violence or human rights abuse.

3.3. Categories of complaints

The Secretariat performs a number of checks and categorizes and correspondingly treats all complaints as follows:

3.3.1. Checks

Checks include but are not limited to:

a.   Are details of the complainant and complaint complete?
b.   Is party complained against an RSPO member?
c.   Is the member and location certified yet?
d.   Is sufficient information about the case made available to determine course of action?
e.   If not, is a regular RSPO audit or surveillance by CB foreseen in the near future (check time bound plans etc)?
f.   Do any other options for investigation, if needed, exist?
g.   Have other efforts to resolve the issue been tried sufficiently?
h.   Will mediation possibly help at this stage, either by secretariat or by DSF?


3.3.1. Checks

The Complaints Panel deliberates and decides on complaint cases that fall outside of other complaint resolution mechanisms. It is in principle a high-level body that:

1.   Complaint to be resolved bilaterally (e.g. through a company’s own complaints handling)
2.   Complaint to be resolved through a second party process in the national context (e.g. court, human rights commission), the financial chain (e.g. IFC Ombudsman), or in the trade chain (e.g. supply chain audits)
3.   Complaint in relation to performance and certification of an RSPO Member’s operation(s) with respect to the RSPO Principles & Criteria (P&C)
4.   Complaint in relation to performance and accreditation of an RSPO Certification Body
5.   Complaint to be settled through mediation (e.g. RSPO DSF)
6.   Complaint in relation to any other breaches, notably of the RSPO Code of Conduct, by an RSPO Member to be handled by the Complaints Panel
7.   Other complaints.

3.4. Treatment of complaints

1.   Complaint to be resolved bilaterally (e.g. through a company’s own complaints handling); or
2.   Complaint to be resolved through a second party process in the national context (e.g. court, human rights commission), the financial chain (e.g. IFC Ombudsman), or in the trade chain (e.g. supply chain audits)

Initial attempts at bilateral resolution:

Before the RSPO Secretariat intervenes in a complaint and directs it through one of the avenues of the Complaints System, it recommends that the complainant attempts to resolve the issue directly with the member in question. Only after the complainant can explain how such attempts have failed is the Secretariat compelled to intervene further.

3.   Complaint in relation to certification of an RSPO Member’s operation(s) with respect to the RSPO Principles & Criteria (P&C); and/or
4.   Complaint in relation to performance and accreditation of an RSPO Certification Body

Noncompliance of an RSPO Member’s certified operation(s) with respect to the RSPO Principles & Criteria (P&C)

Compliance by certified operations with the RSPO P&C is supposed to be addressed through the certification process. If a party believes that the certification process has been ineffective in appropriately enforcing a member’s practices in line with the P&C, or the complaint questions the validity of the CB’s practices and/or decisions, the Secretariat shall remand the matter to the accreditation body and/or certification body as it deems most effective. Specifically:

a.   The Secretariat asks the complainant if they have raised their concern directly with the CB first. This is often a faster way to a resolution and should be tried as an initial course. If the complainant states that this avenue has not proved satisfactory, the Secretariat directs the complainant to escalate the complaint to the attention of the accreditation body. The Secretariat also duly records its exchanges with the complainant at these initial stages as a means of tracking the performance of the accreditation body and CBs; this is part of the responsibilities the Secretariat executes on behalf of RSPO the scheme owner.
b.   If the above steps have proven unsatisfactory to the complainant, the Secretariat pursues an investigation of the matter with the accreditation body.
c.   The accreditation body then investigates the complaint and within one calendar month reports to the RSPO Secretariat at least the following information:
  • i. The results of the investigation to date, the need for any additional time to complete the investigation and the reasons why. After this initial report, the accreditation body shall update the Secretariat as to its progress on the complaint at least every two months, or upon closure of the case, whichever is sooner.
d.   Upon closure of the case, the accreditation body shall file a report with the RSPO Secretariat that includes at least the following:
  • i. Any follow-up actions the certification body makes with respect to its decision on the certified operation’s case;
  • ii. Any corrective actions imposed on the certification body by the accreditation body; and
  • iii. An assessment of whether the complaint will still be justified even after the corrective actions have been implemented, including an indication of how long it will take for improvements in the certified operation’s case to be realized. The accreditation body is at liberty to present its assessment that the complaint would still be justified, ahead of steps (i) and (ii) above, if it is clear that this will indeed be the case.
  • iv. Once the accreditation body closes a case, or in line with paragraph d.iii above, other avenues of the complaints system may be resumed as applicable to address noncompliance with the P&C.
5.   Complaint to be settled through mediation (e.g. RSPO DSF)

Mediation as a possible option to settle disputes:

a.   Background:

The highly complex nature of certain kinds of disputes encountered by RSPO and its members often warrants a more thoroughly negotiated resolution. In particular, if a complaint involves a lack of FPIC, recognition of the community voice, and respect for customary rights, i.e., related to P&C sections 2.2, 2.3, 6.4, 7.5, and/or 7.6, or involves a dispute over HCV area(s) (RSPO P&C section 7.3), or another issue recommended by the Complaints Panel or EB, the case may be directed toward the RSPO Dispute Settlement Facility (DSF), which is described in detail in the DSF Protocol’s flow diagram.

While the option to use mediation to resolve problems of this nature should in theory be undertaken prior to a member’s pursuing certification, experience has shown that disputes requiring a mediated settlement may only come to light after certification has been granted. Notwithstanding corrective actions through the RSPO Certification System as described above, mediation through the DSF may be a possible avenue to bring such complex cases to a satisfactory state.

b.   Reaching agreement on process:

Mediation is predicated upon both sides’ voluntary participation in the process. When the Secretariat encounters a case that may be resolved through mediation, the Secretariat guides the opposing sides of the case to seek a mediated process. RSPO prefers that mediation is conducted under the DSF, but the parties involved may arrange for mediation outside of the DSF, as long as the Secretariat is updated as to the progress of the process in line with the reporting requirements and timelines described in the DSF Protocol. These requirements enable the Secretariat to monitor the case in a manner consistent with its responsibilities under this Complaints System.

  • i. Unilateral refusal by the party against whom a complaint has been raised (i.e., the RSPO member) to participate in mediation will result in the Complaints Procedure flowing through its otherwise normal sequence.
  • ii. Unilateral refusal on the part of the disputing party to agree to mediation will trigger an investigation by the RSPO Secretariat as to the nature of the refusal, in line with the procedures described in the DSF Protocol.
c.   imelines and related action steps:
  • i. When the Secretariat identifies a case that is appropriate for mediation, it shall indicate so to the different parties to the complaint and shall ask for their acceptance or refusal of such a process. The parties shall have up to 4 weeks to decide and inform the Secretariat.
  • ii. If mediation is agreed as a course forward, the two sides shall have up to 4 weeks to agree upon and engage a mediator, who shall then be bound to report to the Secretariat as to the progress of the case, in line with DSF Protocol. Note that the result of the mediation itself is not bound by a standard set timeline because experience shows that these processes often take as long as they need to take to reach a sustainable solution. RSPO P&C (6.1 and 6.3) and RSPO Certification System require, in case a conflict exists, that the company concerned follows a time-bound plan to resolve such dispute.
6.   Complaint in relation to any other breaches, notably of the RSPO Code of Conduct, by an RSPO Member to be handled by the Complaints Panel

Breaches of the RSPO Code of Conduct by an RSPO Member, including non-certified members

Where a complaint involves a potential breach of a member’s adherence to the RSPO Code of Conduct, the Secretariat shall, after acknowledging the complaint, investigate the charge(s) against the member by first asking the member to respond to the content of the complaint and any additional investigation if needed. The Secretariat shall then bring the original complaint and its response from the member to the Complaints Panel for its consideration with advice about its legitimacy.

In cases where disputes come to light or newly arise after certification has been granted, per section 4.2.4 of the “RSPO Certification Systems” document on partial certification requirements, the member may face suspension of their status of certification. An “interim measure” may be needed to assure RSPO’s credibility. In these instances, the Complaints Panel shall have up to 10 working days to impose such a measure on the member. (For operations that are already moving certified product or have forward contracts, Green Palm and/or Utz Certified will need to be notified of any changes in member status.)

The Complaints Panel has 10 working days from the time of receiving a briefing about the complaint to decide on its legitimacy and next actions. The Panel may request additional information and/or commission further investigation of the complaint. Preferably this is connected as part of planned certifications audits or surveillance audits, including consultations with stakeholders in relation to these verifications. Therefore, the member may initially be requested to submit a time-bound plan for certification of its operations. This informs the panel about any need for additional field investigation (commissioned) by the Secretariat.

The Secretariat (in consultation with the Complaints Panel) will set timelines for its receipt of the findings of said additional information, and the complainant shall be notified of this timeline. Under normal circumstances this time period (and other steps to provide information or a decision) shall be 4 weeks, unless specified otherwise. Any delay or extension of the originally-stated timeline will be communicated to the complainant as well as the member in question.

Upon receiving all of the information the Complaints Panel needs, the Panel shall have 4 weeks within which to issue a decision to the member, including the imposition of any corrective actions and penalties on the member, and process and monitoring requirements during progress of implementation. Monitoring would normally be the responsibility of the RSPO Secretariat.

The Complaints Panel and Secretariat will document how the measures undertaken to resolve complaints are implemented and details of what sanctions can be imposed if there is further non-compliance with the agreed remediation. It is the responsibility of the Executive Board to determine ultimate sanctions, both with respect to non-complaint members as well as any mendacious complainants.

Further details of the operation of the Complaints Panel are contained in the flowchart.

7.   Other complaints

Complaints not fitting any of the categories above may relate to:

a.   Shortcomings of the RSPO Principles & Criteria
RSPO is open to receiving comments and suggestions for improvement of the P&C at any time, in line with the ISEAL Code of Good Practice for Setting Social and Environmental Standards. RSPO periodically reviews the P&C for relevance and effectiveness.
b.   Performance of the RSPO Secretariat in executing its duties
The Secretariat may respond directly to any complaint it receives about its own performance, and makes a good faith effort to correct any shortcomings it indentifies. When such complaints are received, the Secretariat will acknowledge the complaint and indicate its intended next steps.
c.   Conduct of RSPO governance and decision making structures and bodies
Complaints about the manner in which RSPO engages stakeholders, makes decisions, or otherwise governs itself or any of its component bodies or committees shall be remanded by the Secretariat to the Complaints Panel, who shall determine the course of action on a case-by-case basis and may subsequently refer to the Executive Board as appropriate.