Consumer products giant Proctor & Gamble has become the latest company to cave into pressure from Greenpeace, revealing new goals to eliminate deforestation from its entire palm oil supply chain by 2020. Despite the major step forward, the company already faces questions over whether it should have made similar pledges for other products and committed to a date much earlier than the end of the decade.
The maker of products such as Head & Shoulders, Fairy and Pampers has faced a global campaign over its sourcing of palm oil, after a Greenpeace investigation earlier this year accused a number of P&G suppliers of using destructive techniques to clear the Indonesian rainforest to make way for palm oil plantations.
P&G already has pledged to use 100 percent sustainably sourced palm oil by 2015 for use in its soaps, cosmetics and food. However, Greenpeace's investigation suggested it was not on track to meet the target, with just 10 percent of its palm oil being classed as officially "sustainable" last year.
What followed was a typical, high-profile campaign from Greenpeace that sought to raise consumer awareness of P&G's environmental footprint, including protests, petitions and spoof adverts mocking the company's cuddly image and accusing it of fueling deforestation. In response, P&G launched a full investigation into its palm oil supply chain, and this week confirmed it would take measures to eliminate deforestation across its palm oil supply chain by 2020.
The company aims to ensure that all of its palm oil supplies can be traced back to the source by the end of next year, and will ensure that suppliers meet criteria set out by the cross-industry Round Table on Sustainable Palm (RSPO). This means no new development on peatlands or high conservations value areas, no slash and burn to clear land, and adoption of human and labor rights standards.
Len Sauers, P&G vice president of global sustainability, said the new commitment was "unequivocal."
"Our aim is to develop effective long-term solutions to the complicated issue of palm oil sustainability," he said in a statement. "We are committed to driving positive change throughout the entire supply chain, not just for us, but for the industry and for the small farmers who depend on this crop.
"These goals go beyond our current commitments. P&G will continue to work with each of our suppliers, and we will invest in and work directly with small local farmers, where much of our supply comes from, to improve their production practices. This is the most complicated aspect of the palm supply chain, where P&G believes we can make a significant and lasting impact."
Areeba Hamid, forest campaigner with Greenpeace International, welcomed the move, but questioned if P&G could have set a target earlier than 2020. "[P&G's] commitment today is another step towards responsible supply chains and ending deforestation in the world's rainforests," she said. "But the policy is not perfect. It leaves suppliers six more years to clear forests. With global warming and rapid biodiversity loss, we urge P&G to take action against suppliers such as Musim Mas and KLK that have been identified to be clearing forests and peatlands."
She also urged P&G to implement similar zero deforestation targets for other forest products, such as wood pulp. The news comes as the RSPO revealed that sales of certified sustainable palm oil reached a record high in the first quarter of 2014, with a 49 percent increase in uptake compared to the same period last year. The figures also revealed a 54 percent increase in demand for GreenPalm Certificates — which provide financial support for growers attempting to transition to more sustainable plantation models.
"The recent months have seen many more companies committing towards 100 percent RSPO Certified Sustainable Palm Oil (CSPO), most of them with a 2015 deadline," said RSPO technical director Salahudin Yaacob. "We are happy to see these commitments — mainly from large European retailers and consumer goods manufacturers reflecting in real terms on the demand for CSPO."
However, despite the increasing demand for sustainable palm oil, P&G and its peers can expect to face continued public pressure until deforestation is driven from their supply chains altogether.