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Since its first meeting in Bangkok in November 2019, the Assurance Standing Committee (ASC) continues to head in a positive direction, seeking to combine a systematic approach to its extensive scope of work, while addressing the gap areas within the RSPO Assurance Systems.
Throughout 2020, the ASC has organised four meetings - one physical meeting in Kuala Lumpur in March, followed by three meetings held virtually via Zoom in June, September, and November due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the inaugural Assurance Forum, to provide updates to and gather inputs from relevant stakeholders, including both RSPO and non-RSPO members. A follow-up Assurance Forum was held in December 2020.
The ASC’s Terms of Reference (ToR) has also been finalised, which makes it easier to organise ASC’s work plan. To facilitate this, an independent review on the ASC’s predecessor, the Assurance Task Force (ATF), was commissioned and concluded in June 2020. Conducted by an independent consultant, Adam Harrison, one of the key issues emphasised in the report was the need to undertake the necessary analysis to pinpoint the root causes of shortcomings in the RSPO Assurance Systems to better guide the discussions and decision-making by the ASC.
ASC members have now agreed on the scope of work required, and the RSPO Secretariat has conducted a preliminary gap assessment to contribute to this process. Significant progress is expected to be made during the first quarter of 2021, with a complete ASC action plan being put up for discussion at the March 2021 ASC meeting.
In order to address the issue of poor audits and lack of capacity amongst Certification Bodies (CBs) and their auditors, the Accreditation Services International (ASI) has been tasked to design a systematic approach to analyse the performance of CBs. The draft is currently in discussion.
On 12 November, the RSPO Board of Governors (BOG) approved the new RSPO Certification Systems document, which serves to provide a better understanding of RSPO standards amongst auditors. This is supplemented by the development of a labour auditing guidance, in which the ASI was also involved. However, the travel restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic have prevented on the ground pilot testing to be conducted. Nevertheless, the ASC will make sure the document is socialised for testing when there is a marked reduction of COVID-19 risk.
Working hand-in-hand with the RSPO Investigation and Monitoring Unit (IMU), the ASC has also embarked on the development of an independent pool of experts to improve the grievance process, especially those relating to the RSPO Assurance Systems. In this regard, the RSPO FireHub, which registers all identified hotspots within RSPO concessions, was also developed. It is in its final stages of development and is currently undergoing some minor fine-tuning works by the IMU.
For 2021, the ASC is committed to continue the positive momentum and further refine the RSPO Assurance Systems. According to ASC Co-Chair, Michael Guindon, “While 2020 was all about laying the groundwork for more robust assurance systems, this year will be even more critical for the work of the ASC.”
“Armed with a thorough understanding of the root causes of poor auditing and assessment quality, the ASC will be in a strong position to identify — and most importantly, implement — appropriate solutions to strengthen and future-proof RSPO’s Assurance Systems. Collective, decisive action will also remain a top priority, and the ASC is determined to continue working closely with the RSPO Secretariat and the Assurance Forum to ensure all stakeholder voices are heard and taken into account,” adds Guindon.