Danone toughens stance on unsustainable palm oil

The food giant behind major brands such as Cow & Gate, Actimel and Volvic has stepped up its commitment to eliminating deforestation, vowing to map out its entire palm oil supply chain by the end of next year.

Nonprofit organization The Forest Trust (TFT) confirmed yesterday it had agreed to work with Danone on developing a transparent palm oil supply chain, as part of a major overhaul of its palm oil policies.

The company claims to be a relatively modest user of palm oil, but still accounts for 0.05 percent of the world's production.

Danone committed to a forest footprint policy in 2012 to eliminate the impact of deforestation from its supply chain by 2020 and ceremoniously ended its contract with Asia Pulp and Paper, after evidence emerged it was using illegal logging practices in Indonesia at the time.

Danone said it now expects to be buying 100 percent certified and segregated sustainable palm oil by the end of this year, and is looking to raise the bar beyond the requirements of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO).

"The RSPO standard protects primary or old-growth forests. However, it has proven unable to safeguard other vulnerable eco-systems including tropical peatland and second-growth forests," the new policy states. "This is why Danone is now ... promoting sustainable palm oil production practices that both preserve eco-systems at risk and offer local communities long-term benefits."

The new policy, which starts with immediate effect, aims to ensure Danone can trace all its palm oil back to the plantation where it was produced, checking that it does not threaten any forests classed as "High Conservation Value" or "High Carbon Stock" and protects the rights of workers.

It will start by working with TFT to map out its entire supply chain by the end of 2015, with each plantation given an environmental and social rating. After that it will seek to buy palm oil only from the best sources and help laggards to improve their practices.

TFT's Florie Loth, who heads up palm oil projects for many European companies, said the move could have a major impact on the wider palm oil industry.

"Danone is a worldwide brand, so the fact it has a palm oil policy and the will to implement it demonstrates that big businesses can work towards successfully operating responsible supply chains," she said.

This article originally appeared at Business Green. Palm oil fruit image by tristan tan via Shutterstock.