The palm oil industry is heavily scrutinized as some palm oil-producing countries press forward to make sustainably sourced palm oil the global standard, while other countries still fall behind on their environmental and social responsibilities. Those on the front line (and who often serve as change agents) include CEOs of major corporations. They straddle the line between meeting the growing demand for sustainable ingredients, and doing business with an industry working hard to change its reputation. 

The Malaysian Palm Oil Council hosts an online forum, “CEO Insights” where corporate leaders can share their perceptions of the palm oil industry as well as how they are contributing to stronger environmental and social policies. 

In this interview, MPOC CEO Dato’ Dr. Wan Zawawi Wan described some of the challenges faced by the palm oil industry. “There are lots of perceptions about nutrition, about health, about the environment … and there are also people who are trying to undermine the goodness of sawit (palm oil) … we need to change that perception from a negative one and build a new one.” By national law, all palm oil produced in Malaysia must be certified sustainable (MSPO). 

He added, “MPOC is doing lots of good things for the palm oil industry.” These include educating people about the benefits of responsibly sourced palm oil, and working to open other markets around the world. 

“In the near future, I’m hoping that Malaysian sawit will be known around the world … and MPOC will be known as the voice of sawit throughout the world,” he said, adding that he wants the palm oil industry to continue looking for ways to give back to their communities and the world. 

Another CEO Insights participant was Meghna Group of Industries’ Chairman and Managing Director Mostafa Kamal, whose company is one of the biggest palm oil importers in Bangladesh. He commented that palm oil consumption within Bangladesh is increasing, with an estimated 70 percent of cooking now being done with palm oil. Use of palm oil grows annually while use of soybean oil is decreasing. He credits growing awareness of palm oil’s benefits with at least some of that increase. 

Palm oil is the second most imported oil in Turkey, with about 95 percent of the country’s palm oil (about 600,000 tons) coming from Malaysia. Isinsu Kestelli, philanthropist and CEO of Agrilink/AgriTrade, Turkey’s largest palm oil importer, discussed why her company places so much value on importing only sustainable palm oil. 

In her CEO insights interview, Kestelli explained the connection between the increasing Turkish demand for palm oil and her commitment to sustainability. “The world is getting more and more crowded, and we have limited resources,” she said. “We should be aware that humans are not the only living creatures on earth. We have to stop human actions (from) harming the ecosystem.”

To feed the world’s increasing population requires a balance. “This means sustainability,” she stressed. “That is why Agrilink is an RSPO member.” 

RSPO, which stands for Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, has more than 4,000 members worldwide. Malaysia, the first country in the world to produce sustainable palm oil, is building and expanding on RSPO’s foundation with its own nationally mandated MSPO certification scheme. An overwhelming majority of Malaysia’s palm oil industry has now achieved MSPO certification.