Most sustainability certifications in Indonesia are developed by Northern-based businesses and NGOs to regulate the production of agricultural commodities in the South. However, research still shows a lot of uncertainty about what sustainability certifications imply for the livelihood of smallholder farmers. Given these uncertainties, this paper explores the potential of certifications to improve the livelihood of smallholder farmers. To achieve this objective we developed an amended livelihood framework applied to an exploratory study of Indonesian smallholders who participate in the Roundtable of Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). Although access to markets and vulnerability are not improved through certification, indirect effects through organizational changes increase productivity. If certification schemes are weakly institutionalized, farmers will easily shift to a more profitable way of production. Further analysis is needed to discover the balance between the ethical aspects of certification while improving economic profitability for participating smallholders.