System Components and Terms of Reference

2.1. RSPO Secretariat

The RSPO Secretariat is the body that is responsible for coordination, administration, and communications for all aspects of the RSPO system, including the Complaints System. Specifically, the Secretariat’s tasks are to:

a.   Receive, acknowledge, and process complaints. The term “complaint” is hereby intended to have similar meaning as the terms “grievance,” “dispute,” “challenge,” “conflict,” and any similar term connoting dissatisfaction with some aspect of the RSPO system.
b.   Administer and monitor the handling of the subject matter of complaints, including use of the Complaints Procedure, Dispute Settlement Facility (DSF), and Certification System, including the progress of the cases going through these systems, the assurance that conditions or corrective actions imposed by these systems (e.g. by the Complaints Panel) are followed, and the proper redress of any cases not meeting the expectations set.
c.   Commission suitable expertise (whether they are Secretariat staff, working groups, or consultants) as needed to support fact-finding, mediation, and to inform decisions of the Complaints Panel. Such expertise may be deemed necessary by the Secretariat itself, or ordered by the Complaints Panel or Executive Board (EB). In addition to this, the Secretariat may commission capacity building of companies and other stakeholders, notably local communities, through trainings or guiding materials etc to help them participate in the complaint process fairly and equally.
d.   Oversee and execute relevant communications and announcements, both to the RSPO members or other parties concerned in a complaint as well as to the larger public.
e.   Monitor its own functionality and competence in doing the above.

The RSPO Executive Board (EB) is responsible for overseeing the activities of the Secretariat. The Secretariat thus also shares with the EB on a regular basis (on a schedule mandated by the EB) a summary of all complaints it has received and handled since the EB’s last review. This summary shall at least include the following information:

a.   Date the complaint was received
b.   Nature of the complaint
c.   The RSPO’s response
d.   The outcome

2.2. RSPO Certification System

The RSPO Certification System is responsible for assuring the good performance of auditors & certification bodies (CBs), and includes its system for accreditation of CBs. Complaints based mainly on the performance or decision of a certification body and/or its auditor(s) shall be addressed through RSPO’s accreditation mechanisms before further address of the case through other channels of the Complaints System, which shall be used in due course if the issue cannot be resolved by the Certification System alone.

RSPO, as the scheme owner, is responsible for setting “the rules of the game” under which CBs operate, and which are overseen and enforced by its accreditation body. The RSPO Secretariat defines and assigns the pertinent responsibilities that its accreditation body (Accreditation Services International) needs to execute. It is within the Secretariat’s authority to require that it receive, at its discretion and/or on a schedule of its choosing, information relating to any complaints received by its approved CBs or by the accreditation body.

2.3. RSPO Dispute Settlement Facility (DSF)

The DSF is a mediation channel through which disputes may be resolved. The intention of the DSF is to essentially focus on preventative (mediation prior to certification) and remedial approaches while facilitating, monitoring and learning from a limited number of corrective cases, e.g. referred to the DSF by the Complaints Panel. While originally conceived for land-based disputes, the DSF is also applicable for other types of problems. (Often land-based issues are already entailed with other ramifications.) Examples:

a.   Clearing of HCV and reaching agreement on their compensation or remediation
b.   Labour rights issues
c.   Human rights issues
d.   Company commitments to communities
e.   Environmental issues.

2.4. RSPO Compensation Procedures Related to Land Clearance without Prior to HCV Assessment

 RSPO Compensation Procedures apply to non-compliance with specific provisions of the RSPO Principle 7.3 and/or the New Plantings Procedure i.e. plantings without prior HCV identification.

The RSPO Secretariat receiving a complaint case or the RSPO Complaints Panel reviewing a complaint case related to HCV related non-compliance of NPP and Principle 7.3 can refer it to the RSPO Compensation Panel (BHCV-CP).

2.5. Complaints Panel

2.5.1. Purpose

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:

a.   Handles complaints against RSPO as an organization
b.   Addresses breaches of the Code of Conduct
c.   Serves as a body of last resort if other resolution mechanisms have failed
d.   Imposes measures to incentivize resolution (or termination)
e.   Ensures that RSPO governance systems allow for deliberation on redress, reparation, and compensation (e.g. through DSF)
f.   Endeavours to capture wider lessons and make recommendations to the RSPO Executive Board on any systemic improvements.

It is the task of the Complaints Panel to:

a.   Decide on the legitimacy of any given complaint made against an RSPO member and on any “interim measure” needed during further handling of the case by the RSPO.
b.   Deliberate and decide on the course of action to be taken to address the complaint.
c.   Deliberate and propose to the Executive Board any sanction in the situation that a complaint does not get resolved satisfactorily.

The role of the Complaints Panel is to review, assess and formulate practical actions that can be carried out by the conflicting parties to mitigate conflict and provide sustainable solutions to address core issues. In cases where a member is shown to have committed or omitted to act in a way that is “serious grounds for termination”, that member would be required to take action to remedy or resolve the situation to the satisfaction of the Executive Board.

The Complaints Panel is mandated by the RSPO Executive Board for this purpose, task and role. The EB is responsible for overseeing the activities of the Complaints Panel.


2.5.2. Composition –

The Complaints Panel for each individual case will be populated by 5 expert members, in a balance of interests and expertise. The Complaints Panel will be selected for each case from the RSPO Complaints Panel pool of members. The RSPO Secretariat ensures a sufficient number of pool members are available by inviting the relevant categories to come forward with candidates. The Secretary General approves candidate members on the basis of their good standing as RSPO member and their capacity to fulfil the purpose, task and role. A list of all members in the pool will be kept up to date on the RSPO website . Additional RSPO Members and external experts may be called upon to advise the Complaints Panel on an individual case as deemed appropriate by the Complaints Panel. 

The standard composition of the core Complaints Panel is representing the RSPO membership as follows and will be specified for each individual case:

a.   Environmental NGO
b.   Social/development NGO
c.   Growers
d.   Processor/trader, or consumer goods manufacturer, or retailer, or banks/investors
e.   Affiliate Member

The Panel reviews conflict of interest before each case and the panel through the chair invites replacing members as necessary for achieving balance and expertise. Selection of expert members should aim to include at least one member who has local knowledge and must be based close to the ground action where they can move in to investigate further, while maintaining independence. If a complaint is raised against a consumer goods manufacturer, then a processor/trader or retailer of bank/investor is selected. If a complaint is raised against a Malaysian grower, then an Indonesian or Rest-of-the-World grower will be called upon and vice versa.

The Complaints Panel appoints a chair from among its members. The RSPO Secretariat facilitates the Complaints Panel’s work and can attend its meetings.


2.5.3. Decisions

The Complaints Panel strives to make decisions by consensus, which is defined as the lack of sustained opposition. It is incumbent upon Panel members who oppose decisions to propose alternative solutions. When consensus is not reached, the Complaints Panel may call upon the Executive Board for further deliberation and consensus-based decision making.


2.5.4. Records and Communications

The Secretariat is responsible for housing the records of the Complaints Panel’s activities and communicating its decisions to affected parties, in line with this document. However detailed minutes of Complaints Panel meetings are confidential.