Burger King Drops Controversial Palm Oil Supplier

Burger King has become the latest company to stop buying palm oil from an embattled Indonesian company its critics accuse of deforestation.

Burger King will no longer purchase palm oil from a subsidiary of Sinar Mas after an audit "raised valid concerns about some of the sustainability practices of Sinar Mas' palm oil production and its impact on rainforests," Burger King announced on its Facebook page.

The fast food giant will transition to a new supplier for 176 restaurants that received palm oil from Sinar Mas subsidiary PT SMART Tbk. Over the last year, Unilever, Nestle and Abengoa Bioenergy, a Spanish energy company, have walked away from PT SMART's palm oil. Staples, Woolworths, and U.K. retailers Tesco and Carrefour stopped buying products from Asia Pulp and Paper, another Sinar Mas subsidiary. HSBC also sold off all of its shares in Sinar Mas.

The driving force behind these developments has been Greenpeace, which launched a series of campaigns to raise awareness of what it considers to be Sinar Mas' destructive forestry practices, while also applying public pressure on consumer-facing companies to cut ties with the Indonesian conglomerate.

Underpinning these campaigns were a series of reports with titles that include "Caught Red Handed," "Burning Up Borneo" and "Sinar Mas Continues Rainforest Destruction."

In response to allegations in the reports of land-clearing and other wrongdoings, Sinar Mas hired a team of independent auditors to verify the Greenpeace claims. The report found Sinar Mas had indeed cleared and planted on deep peatland "but not as extensively as claimed," and it cleared land in certain areas before required environmental impact assessments were approved. The report also noted weaknesses in PT SMART's documentation of its engagement with landowners during compensation dialogues.

Sinar Mas touted the report as proof that the Greenpeace allegations were either wrong or exaggerated.

The auditors released a clarified statement two weeks ago because some parts of its research were "misreported as it has been published and presented," said authors BSI Group, Control Union Certifications (CUC) and experts from the faculty of forestry at Bogor Agricultural Institute (IPB). "We therefore wish to restate the key findings of the report in the IVEX Team Report Summary and would ask all parties concerned to do the same."

In a statement Wednesday, Sinar Mas expressed disappointment with Burger King's decision.

"We are disappointed with this decision and will continue to engage Burger King to help them better understand our sustainability commitments," the company said. "We hope to welcome them back as customers soon. We are confident that Burger King's decision does not represent the view of the majority of our customers."

Sinar Mas acknowledged mistakes, "but these are not to the extent that it has been made out to be," it said. "This must be put into context. We have also made clear that where mistakes were made, we have taken the necessary action to ensure that this is not repeated." 

Image CC licensed by Flickr user Håkan Dahlström.