Greenpeace lauds Nestle and Ferrero palm oil pledges, slams others
Did the palm oil in the biscuits and cosmetics and toothpaste you buy contribute to deforestation, lost habitats and soaring carbon emissions?
It is a question you should soon be able to respond to with a confident "no," following high profile pledges from a raft of consumer goods companies that they are to ensure their supply chains result in "zero deforestation."
But according to a major new report (PDF) from Greenpeace, many leading companies are struggling to deliver on their ambitious sustainable palm oil goals, and a few big names have made scant progress towards tackling deforestation in their supply chain.
The study takes a forensic look at the palm oil policies and practices of 14 leading companies, each of which have made zero deforestation commitments and many of which have signed up to the U.N.-backed goal to end net deforestation by 2030, before ranking them in a scorecard.
The report praises Ferrero and Nestle, declaring that while further progress is needed on some fronts they are on track to meet their goal to end deforestation in their supply chain. But it aims varying degrees of criticism at the rest of the companies studied, and slams PepsiCo, Colgate-Palmolive and Johnson & Johnson for making negligible progress with their responsible sourcing, transparent reporting and zero deforestation efforts.
The report is based on interviews with the 14 companies studied: Colgate-Palmolive; Danone; Ferrero; General Mills; Ikea; Johnson & Johnson; Kellogg; Mars; Mondelez; Nestle; Orkla; PepsiCo; P&G; and Unilever.
Greenpeace said the responses revealed a huge amount of work still needs to be done if zero deforestation pledges are to be honored.
"None of the companies we surveyed are able to say with any certainty that there is no deforestation in their palm oil supply chain," the report stated. "Most companies are unable even to say how much of their palm oil comes from suppliers that comply with their own sourcing standards."
Specifically, the report noted that of the 14 companies surveyed, only Ferrero can trace nearly 100 percent of its palm oil back to the plantation it is grown on, while most of the companies studied are yet to start obtaining independent third-party verification to demonstrate their palm oil is produced by companies operating in compliance with their "no deforestation" policies.
Moreover, none of the companies analyzed publish a full list of their palm oil suppliers, and none publish a list of suppliers that they have ceased purchasing from due to finding evidence of rainforest clearance, or other breaches of policy.
Annisa Rahmawati of Greenpeace Indonesia said companies had an obligation to strengthen their palm oil sourcing policies, especially when palm oil plantations are a main driver behind the loss of 31 million hectares of Indonesian forest since 1990 and a primary contributor to the forest fires that were blamed for $16 billion of damage last year.
"Palm oil can be grown responsibly without destroying forests, harming local communities or threatening orangutans," she said. "But our survey shows that brands are not doing enough to stop the palm oil industry ransacking Indonesia's rainforests.
"PepsiCo, Colgate-Palmolive and Johnson & Johnson are really letting their customers down. People should be able to brush their teeth or eat a snack without pushing orangutans even closer to extinction. These companies must have a fully transparent supply chain and ensure they only buy palm oil from suppliers that are protecting our rainforests."
A spokesman for Colgate-Palmolive said the company was "proud of our goals to fight deforestation and our progress towards them." He added the company was working with The Forest Trust (TFT) and the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, and purchasing certified oils and GreenPalm Certificates that together contributed nearly $8 million to support sustainable palm oil production since 2013.
"We are targeting over 75 percent certified mass-balance oils in 2016 and are committed to achieve our goals for a deforestation-free palm oil supply chain within four years, including working with Greenpeace and others on tracking to the plantation the source of these products."
A spokeswoman for Johnson & Johnson similarly defended the company's track record, arguing the firm "has an obligation to preserve the environment and we are implementing programs across the world to limit our footprint and environmental impact."
She added that the company published Responsible Palm Oil Sourcing Criteria in 2014 and has worked with TFT and some of its suppliers to share supply chain information and assess compliance with standards that "prohibit development in High Carbon Stock forests, peatlands and burning as a method to clear land for new developments or to re-plant."
She also revealed the company has removed one supplier for noncompliance with its standards and will "continue to take appropriate measures to verify conformance and engage with other companies and NGOs to promote responsible palm oil production to address the environmental impact."
Her comments were echoed by a spokeswoman for PepsiCo, who said: "We take the issue of deforestation and the sourcing of sustainable palm oil very seriously, and so PepsiCo has a long-standing palm oil policy. Our action plan reflects our enhanced efforts, including traceability to the mill level by 2016 and the sourcing of 100 percent physically certified sustainable palm oil. We recognize this is a journey, and we will continue to evolve our efforts and commitments."
Richard George, forest campaigner at Greenpeace U.K., said the campaign group had some sympathy for the challenges firms face trying to remove deforestation from their supply chain.
"Almost everyone we spoke to clearly has good intentions," he said. "We focused on companies that have zero deforestation policies — there are companies out there that don't have policies and won't speak to us — but this group is working to address this challenge. Equally it is clear across the industry there is a real breadth of ambition. Some are putting the money in and making progress; others are not and are not making the same progress as their peers."
He added tackling palm oil driven deforestation was particularly challenging because of the complexity of the sector's supply chain.
"The palm oil industry is different [from] the pulp and paper sector where we've seen some progress on zero deforestation," he explained. "Traders buy from many different concessions and therefore tracking is much harder."
But he warned many multinational brands assessed in the report had yet to undertake some basic supply chain management best practices, despite making deforestation commitments over a year ago.
"First up, they need a clear implementation plan to ensure that by 2020 or earlier they can be prove their palm oil is deforestation free," he said. "Then you have to start mapping the plantations and actively monitoring the suppliers. Just saying 'bring us the sustainable palm oil' does not cut it. Anyone you buy from needs to give you concession maps of their operations. If they are not willing to do that, buy from someone else."
He also argued too many companies analyzed were failing to independently audit their suppliers. "You've got to send auditors into the field," he said. "You have to start verifying your supply. Even if you just do a trial at first, you have to get started with it. There is a risk we'll get to 2019 and not enough progress will have been made to meet the goals many of these companies have set."
Corporate zero deforestation policies have been in place for over a year and best practices for ensuring palm oil does not contribute to forest destruction are well-established. The pressure on global brands to make good on their deforestation pledges is only going to intensify, until we eventually reach the point where consumers confidently can brush their teeth knowing no Indonesian forests were lost as a result.