Month of Issue

January 2019


Mind the Gap: Comparing Legitimacy Discourse of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) in the National and Sub-National Context


Zulfa Utami Adiputri
Shuji Hisano


Graduate School of Economics, Kyoto University


Legitimacy, palm oil, sustainability governance, local context, Indonesia


Despite the proliferating amount of literature regarding legitimacy of voluntary sustainability standards (VSS) initiatives, little is known about the dynamics of the VSS initiative’s legitimacy and its legitimization process at the grass-roots level. In an attempt to fill this gap, our study compares discourses in both the national context of Indonesia as well as the sub-national context of the Melawi District, in West Kalimantan province, to uncover RSPO’s legitimization process and its effect on VSS initiatives in both contexts. We found that there is a lag in the phases between the national and local levels of the RSPO toward political legitimacy. While in the national context the process had progressed from Phase I (initiation phase) to Phase II (gathering wider support and contestation phase), the legitimization process of the RSPO in Melawi context, however, was found to be lagged behind. We argue that the observed lag in the RSPO’s legitimization process is the result of Indonesia’s decentralization policy, the spatial-temporal trajectory of oil palm development in Indonesia, as well as the voluntariness of the RSPO itself. On the other hand, similarities in the discourse involved in the legitimization process is found in both the national and the local context, in which strong market logic and development paradigms are embedded in the discourses and sustainable palm oil certification is understood by many of the actors as nothing more than a marketing strategy.