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Two leading palm oil companies Golden Agri-Resources (GAR) and IOI Group have withdrawn from the High Carbon Stock Approach (HCSA), a voluntary framework set up to help firms meet their no-deforestation pledges, Eco Business reported.

The withdrawal of Singapore-based GAR, which is owned by Indonesian conglomerate Sinar Mas, and its Malaysian competitor IOI Group, brings the total of palm oil companies quitting the HCSA to four in three years, according to the 27 February report.

Leading palm oil company Wilmar International and Sime Darby Plantation quit the framework in 2020, the former citing governance issues and the latter saying the decision was due to COVID 19-induced budget constraints, the report said.

Netherlands-headquartered HCSA was established in 2014 to provide companies in the palm oil and pulp and paper sectors with a methodology that distinguishes areas that can be developed from those that should be protected due to their high conservation value.

Grant Rosoman, senior campaign advisor for Greenpeace, which co-chairs HCSA, was quoted as saying he was not concerned about the future of the organisation “for now”, as members joining and leaving was normal.

HCSA was transitioning to a new business model less reliant on membership fees but the bigger issue was maintaining engagement of the HCSA toolkit, he said.

The fact that companies were leaving voluntary initiatives such as the HCSA invited regulatory approaches to control tropical forest loss, such as the European Union’s recently enacted deforestation law, Rosoman added.

Companies quitting voluntary schemes “undermine being able to use voluntary measures as evidence towards meeting legal and regulatory requirements,” he said.

IOI had not responded to queries about why it left the standards body, Eco Business wrote.

GAR was quoted as saying in a statement that it had seen a “shifting focus” from HCSA in enforcing its guidance in recent years, and an “unnecessary” overlapping role between HCSA and sustainable palm oil certifier the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO).

Despite its resignation from the body, GAR said it was committed to its zero-deforestation policy and would abide by the HCSA’s toolkit.

GAR was one of the founding members of HCSA and helped to develop the methodology, the report said.