Promoting sustainable palm oil: viewed from a global networks and flows perspective

P.J.M. Oosterveer*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

110 Citations (Scopus)


Global demand for palm oil is increasing to fulfil worldwide needs for cooking oil, food ingredients, biofuels, soap and other chemicals. In response, palm oil production is rapidly expanding which promotes economic growth in producing countries but also leads to serious environmental and social problems such as destruction of tropical forests, climate change and threats to small-holder livelihoods. For these reasons, palm oil production and use have become highly controversial. However, the global character of palm oil production and consumption, the number of different actors involved and its multiple uses makes promotion its sustainability highly complex. Individual nation-states can no longer control and regulate a global flow like palm oil and alternative governing networks appear involving private companies and NGOs. Acknowledging the roles of such governance networks with different forms of power means that relying only on economic and political power to explain current dynamics in the palm oil sector is inadequate. In global networks like palm oil supply, encompassing transnational material flows and multiple actors, the relevance of each actor relates to his position in the network. Power in global palm oil supply is therefore not only related to their position in the (vertical) supply chains, but also to their role in the horizontal networks. New forms of power in networks arise from steering the networks (programming) and from connecting different networks (switching). In the multiple networks that compose global palm oil provision today, different programmers and switchers play critical roles. This is briefly illustrated in this paper on the basis of different cases of active steering in global palm oil provision.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)146-153
JournalJournal of Cleaner Production
Publication statusPublished - 2015


  • Environmental flows
  • Environmental governance
  • Global networks
  • Palm oil


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