Leading food companies reach palm oil pact

Sensemaking / Leading food companies reach palm oil pact

Target of 100% sustainable sourcing by 2015.

26 Oct 2011

Target of 100% sustainable sourcing by 2015.

Top international food companies – including Unilever, Kraft, General Mills and Nestlé – have made a pact to procure only palm oil that has been produced in a sustainable way.

All four multinationals have committed to sourcing 100% of their intake from sustainable sources by 2015. They have all taken the decision to drop Indonesian palm oil producer Sinar Mas from their supply chains, after it was caught illegally clearing orangutan habitat and peatland. But beyond this, their roads to sustainable sourcing vary.

Unilever, the world’s biggest buyer of palm oil, is a key supporter of the Round Table on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). The RSPO has three key principles for palm growers: that forests defined as having ‘high conservation value’ must not be converted into palm plantations; that dangerous pesticides should not be used and other pesticides must be used sustainably; and that growers must show proof to right of land, in order to protect the interests of indigenous people. 

But for Kraft, questions hang over the standards and enforcement mechanisms of the Round Table on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). The global food group “supports the goals and efforts of RSPO”, but it believes that “more needs to be done to enforce guidelines and address deforestation. RSPO needs to reach broad consensus on its certification standards, in particular with regard to climate change impacts of palm oil production.”

Kraft, Unilever and Nestlé are all looking to work closely with their existing suppliers to find ways to ensure that palm oil is sourced sustainably. Nestlé has announced guidelines to ensure a “no deforestation footprint” – a move welcomed by Greenpeace. “Fortunately some companies, such as Nestlé, are pressing ahead beyond the RSPO standard, and engaging directly with suppliers to deal with issues around stopping deforestation and protecting carbon rich peatlands”, says Ian Duff, Greenpeace Forest Campaigner.

Sandra Mulder, the WWF Palm Oil and Soy Officer, says: “Strong procurement policies, like those of Unilever, are a very important driver of the RSPO process. But having the policy is one thing. You also have to implement it.” – Christine Ottery

Photo: iStockphoto/thinkstock

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