Palm Oil Producers, Buyers Still Blowing Smoke

World Economic Forum Promoting New Avenues

Palm oil is the fastest-growing commodity on the planet. Sales are expected to exceed $88 billion by 2022. Unfortunately, the industry and its supporters are still blowing smoke about deforestation, biodiversity and climate change. There’s a better way forward and we can help make it a reality.

Palm oil is one of the most controversial commodities. It’s driving deforestation on a massive scale across Southeast Asia, South America and Africa. Deforestation is a major contributor to global warming, land-use change and wildlife extinction.

Indonesia is the world’s largest producer of crude palm oil. Approximately 45 million acres of land in Indonesia has been licensed for palm oil development. Unfortunately, licenses mean very little in the land of smoke and mirrors. Even protected areas, such as the Leuser National Park, are under siege. RSPO members aren’t defending biodiversity or the forests. They only protect themselves from the truth.

palm oil plantation deforestation

Palm oil is derived from the fruit harvested from date palm trees. Presently, more than 95 percent of palm oil is produced in Indonesia and Malaysia. It is marketed as a low-cost form of vegetable oil. It’s used in the majority of consumer goods, including food and personal products, such as lotion and soaps. It’s also marketed as a biofuel. Multinational corporations, including Unilever, PepsiCo, Kellogg’s, Ferrero and many others are under fire from customers and stockholders for supporting deforestation. These companies and the palm oil industry have gone to great lengths for years to cover their tracks and green wash their supply chain with claims of so-called sustainable palm oil. There is no such thing as sustainable palm oil. It’s no more sustainable than crude oil or coal.

The Roundtable On Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) was set up in 2004 following a series of meetings between WWF and palm oil companies. According to WWF, “One of the huge successes of the Roundtable is the development of a certification system for sustainable palm oil.” Unfortunately, that certification system was riddled with fraud and abuse. It’s a label bought not earned.

In 2015, a report by the Environmental Investigation Agency and Grassroots exposed serious problems in the RSPO certification system. Auditing firms that are supposed to monitor palm oil companies’ operations are colluding with the companies to hide violations.

The latest trend is called Certified Sustainable Palm Oil (CSPO). Call it what you will—palm oil plantations and biodiversity do not mix. Animals that enter palm oil plantations are killed. In many cases, bounties have been put on endangered orangutans, elephants and Sumatran tigers. Indonesia has already pushed two tiger species into extinction. The Sumatran tiger could easily follow the Java tiger and Bali tiger into the history books thanks to an industry with no reverence or conscience.

deforestation and climate change

In 2013, Greenpeace produced a report titled “Certifying Destruction,” which highlighted some of the tactics being used to shield the truth about this massive industry. A similar report came out again in 2015 by EIA. In a similar vein, PepsiCo recently released a report in an attempt to cover its tracks. Rainforest Action Network pounced on the report this week as another attempt to cover up the blood in its supply chain.

A report released by Rainforest Action Network (RAN) in April 2017, titled “Profits over People and the Planet, Not ‘Performance with Purpose’; Exposing PepsiCo’s Real Agenda,” revealed PepsiCo’s connections to Conflict Palm Oil suppliers, which are driving deforestation, climate emissions, and human and labor rights abuses across Indonesia, Malaysia, and Latin America. Today’s release by PepsiCo lacks a meaningful response to the issues raised in RAN’s report.

“PepsiCo’s latest “Palm Oil Action Plan Progress Report” is a masterful attempt to window dress its lack of progress in addressing the systemic environmental and human rights violations in its palm oil supply chain and in the operations of its joint venture partner Indofood. In the real world, forests continue to fall and workers continue to be exploited for the production of palm oil used in PepsiCo’s products.

“While PepsiCo openly acknowledges in its report that deforestation and labor rights violations are rampant in the palm oil industry, the company has once again failed to set a deadline to end these abuses in its own supply chains,” said Robin Averbeck, Senior Campaigner of RAN. “Instead, PepsiCo hides behind false claims of sustainability made by the RSPO––the same certification system that has continued to certify its controversial partner Indofood, despite its ongoing exploitation of workers exposed by RAN, Indonesian labor rights organization OPPUK, and International Labor Rights Forum in June 2016.”

orangutan conservation

“PepsiCo needs to stop the corporate greenwash and stop rainforest destruction and the violation of workers and communities’ rights in its supply chain and the plantations controlled by its partner Indofood. Until it does so, PepsiCo and its financial backers will be exposed to campaigns that demand real outcomes on the ground.”

The palm oil industry and its pimps throughout the supply chain, including the RSPO, continue throwing misinformation into the market to placate investors, wholesale buyers and consumers of products that contain palm oil. Meanwhile, RSPO members continue to rape and pillage virgin rain forests and peat lands as they produce more than half of global palm oil supplies.

European nations are threatening to ban palm oil as a “renewable biofuel” in an attempt to reduce demand and force meaningful changes in the palm oil industry. Indonesia and Malaysia are digging in to keep palm oil production and consumption at an all-time high. The industry accounts for billions of dollars per year for the countries’ tycoons and cronies.

As all of this fraud indicates, the palm oil industry and palm oil buyers are desperately seeking solutions, while deforestation and its contribution to wildlife extinction continue. According to a report from the World Economic Forum, the push to get commodity producers, including beef and soy, out of the world’s last rain forests represents a multi-billion dollar opportunity. The good news is that an alternative production model exists that isn’t dependent on rain forest destruction.

palm oil and orangutans

Cities around the world in the tropics, subtropics and deserts represent a powerful opportunity to expand the footprint of palm oil production, while promoting urban agroforestry, sustainability, resiliency and economic development. It can also cut shipping costs by decentralizing the production so that it’s closer to the buyers, such as PepsiCo and others. It’s a win-win opportunity for all stakeholders and stockholders. We need a leader to step forward to demonstrate the benefits of urban agroforestry. It’s a deforestation-free production model that offers valuable benefits.

This initiative will make cities more productive, livable, sustainable and resilient. Some of the new palm trees can help combat the urban heat island effect on our streets and highways. Others can reduce energy demands by sheltering homes, schools and office buildings. Strategically placed trees also can shade parks, golf courses, parks, school grounds and rooftops, while absorbing and sequestering tons of carbon dioxide. Farms and ranches will have an incentive to line their fence lines with a new cash crop. Most importantly, we can create jobs, educational opportunities and sustainable palm oil worth millions of dollars every year just by being resourceful and innovative.

Deforestation and Biodiversity News

climate change and deforestation

Sacred Seedlings is a global initiative to support forest conservation, reforestation, urban forestry, sustainable agriculture, carbon capture and wildlife conservation. Sustainable land management and land use are critical to the survival of entire ecosystems. Sacred Seedlings is a U.S.-based program that supports the vision of local stakeholders. We have projects ready across Africa. We seek additional projects elsewhere around the world. We also seek volunteers, sponsors and donors of cash and in-kind support. Write to Gary Chandler for more information Together, we can stop deforestation and preserve biodiversity.

Forest Conservation Good For Business

Sustainable Palm Oil Ignores Biodiversity

Editor’s Note: The term sustainable palm oil is misleading consumers as it relates to biodiversity and endangered species. I am looking for a clear and concise statement that tells me that companies that purchase such products aren’t promoting wildlife extinction through deforestation. The sole barometer at this point should be orangutans, tigers and elephants on Sumatra, for example. How can sustainable palm oil come from a plantation that sits on land that once was pristine jungle habitat for endangered species? Convince me that there are no loopholes and schemes at work to prevent this from happening.

Secondly, let’s assume that I’m wrong and let’s give credit where credit is due. Unilever has announced that it is sourcing all palm oil from sustainable sources ahead of schedule. They are obviously paying attention to the issue of illegal deforestation and that’s a start. They are big enough and influential enough to be a leader that can promote change. The key is that this change happen before the jungles, orangutans, tigers and elephants are extinct. A sustainability champion can’t take its eye off of the web of life. 

Finally, we issue a challenge to Unilever and its suppliers. We have an urban forestry model that can truly be a sustainable palm oil model. It can accomplish many objectives around the world. Let’s talk. 

palm oil plantation deforestation

Business is the solution to environmental progress, not its enemy, said the head of one of the world’s largest corporations. Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever, accepted the 2013 Commitment to Development “Ideas in Action” Award from the Center for Global Development last night. Unilever was recognized for its work in reducing deforestation through its sustainable sourcing of palm oil and pulp and paper products.

“First and foremost I am a businessman; I cannot deny that,” said Polman. Like most corporate leaders, he excels in tracking progress and measuring success, important tools for both building a successful company and rooting out the cause of environmental degradation. “Otherwise, you don’t move things forward, and I think that’s one of the things that businesses are good about,” he added.

Owner of such brands as Ben & Jerry’s, Dove and Hellmann’s mayonnaise, Unilever has successfully sourced 100 percent of its palm oil from certified sustainable sources (which means what?), three years ahead of schedule, according to the company’s 2012 annual report. Unilever alone purchases about 3 percent of the total global palm oil output. It has set a goal to trace 100 percent of its palm oil back to the plantation on which it was grown by 2020.

endangered species conservation and forest conservation

Polman has exhibited leadership on the issue not just through Unilever, but through his work in the Consumer Goods Forum and the Tropical Forest Alliance, industry groups whose members have committed to sustainable sourcing of materials. Capitalism, said Polman, has been “an enormous positive force in this world.”

But the financial crash of 2008 also showed the limitations of capitalism to help society. Enormous debt, aggravated by overconsumption, had left a large part of the world’s population behind and disregarded the “natural capital,” or the value of ecosystems.

The company pulls in about $67 billion in revenue annually. It is this size and scale that have allowed the company to influence deforestation policy.

“You take Unilever: We have 2 billion consumers using us every day; we are in seven out of 10 households globally,” he said. “If you have that scale and reach, it’s an enormous possibility to transform markets.”

Palm oil can be found in a variety of foods, personal care products like soap, and biodiesel. The rapid expansion of palm oil, driven by rising global demand for food and fuel, has been linked to widespread deforestation in Southeast Asia, the source of about 85 percent of palm oil. About 10 percent of global carbon emissions is linked to deforestation. The death of orangutans, tigers and elephants has been caused by the industry.

palm oil kills orangutans

In the last two decades, the area of palm oil plantations has expanded nearly eight times in Indonesia alone, according to a recent Agriculture Department Foreign Agricultural Service report. Growers have been accused of clearing native forests, removing habitat of endangered species and violating the rights of forest dwellers.

Unilever was also a player in palm oil trader Wilmar’s recent agreement to adopt a no-deforestation policy, which prohibits its suppliers from establishing plantations on lands with large amounts of carbon — like peat soils — or lands with a high conservation value (ClimateWire, Dec. 8, 2013). Wilmar controls about 45 percent of the palm oil market.

“The Wilmar commitment sets a new global standard for industry and creates new constituencies in forest countries among the private sector for improved land-use policies and improved law enforcement,” said Frances Seymour, a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development and an expert in forest policy. “Mr. Polman’s actions give us hope that market transformation can be achieved and that we can stop tropical deforestation.”

Polman organized a global outreach program with businesses that, together, make up 10 percent of global gross domestic product.

deforestation and climate change

“Among CEOs, Polman is seen as the go-to guy for sustainability leadership,” said Glenn Hurowitz, a palm oil campaigner and executive director of sustainability consultant group Catapult. He “knows how to use Unilever’s purchasing power, leverage and influence to help transform the entire supply chains of some of the world’s most environmentally intensive commodities.”

Language is key in generating a response. Polman has made a habit of placing the word “illegal” in front of deforestation.

“The reason it’s illegal is that everything we do now cannot be reversed, and by calling it illegal, by the way, I get far more people to agree with me,” he said. “There’s something still in our humanity, in our values, that we don’t like to do things illegally. We should have called the whole thing ‘illegal climate change,’ and we would have solved it.”

Polman is anxious for other large palm oil traders to make similar commitments to Wilmar.

“If we can get Sime Darby or Sinar Mas or Cargill or one or two others to join, you’re at 70 percent; that’s a tipping point,” he said, naming some of the largest traders after Wilmar. “Again, if we don’t do it, our business is at stake.”


climate change and deforestation

Sacred Seedlings is a global initiative to support forest conservation, reforestation, urban forestry, carbon capture, sustainable agriculture and wildlife conservation. Sustainable land management and land use are critical to the survival of entire ecosystems.

Sacred Seedlings is a U.S.-based program that supports the vision of local stakeholders. We have projects ready across Africa. We seek additional projects elsewhere around the world. We also seek volunteers, sponsors and donors of cash and in-kind support. Write to Gary Chandler for more information