The Path Towards 100% Sustainable Palm Oil -: A Study of German and UK Actors Engaged in the Palm Oil Sector

Ditte Øhrstrøm

Student thesis: Master thesis


This thesis investigates how different actors in Germany and the UK justify their engagement with palm oil and which tensions arise due to this. Drawing upon the political economy studies of multistakeholder initiatives, as well as the pragmatic sociological notion of justification, disputes and critique, this paper addresses the importance of institutions and their safeguarding of value, in a rapidly changing and volatile environment in which organizations are operating in the 21st century. Through data collection in the shape of interviews, news archives and annual reports, this thesis utilizes triangulation to understand the nuances of what arguments are present within the palm oil industry, specifically in the national context of the UK and Germany. The interviews were conducted in relation to a larger research project at Copenhagen Business School, with representatives from organizations engaged with the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil. The news archives were compiled from national media sources over a one-year period in both Germany and the UK, and the official documents were drawn from locally headquartered (in Germany and the UK) down-stream organizations that were mapped in terms of their involvement in the palm oil industry. The tensions identified arose through broad themes of balancing interests, misinformation or lack of information and the unaligned idea of what the ‘end goal’ of certification may be. This paper contributes to the notion that non-state governance through multi-stakeholder initiatives such as certification provide a stable framework for discussion and deliberation that allows for the sustainable development of a commodity such as palm oil. Furthermore, the findings suggest that institutions have the potential to unite and guide countries that may differ in many aspects yet have actors that share the ambition to move their industries to become more sustainable. In addition, the paper presents implications for the future of sustainable development in the palm oil sector and and the commodity sector as a whole.

EducationsMSc in International Business and Politics, (Graduate Programme) Final Thesis
Publication date2019
Number of pages69
SupervisorsKristjan Jespersen