In another move that shows public pressure can have a positive effect on big companies and their suppliers, the world's largest consumer goods company and buyer of palm oil has announced that it will start using palm oil from certified sustainable sources this year. In addition to an effort to have all its palm oil certified by 2015, Unilever's CEO Patrick Cescau also called for a halt on rainforest destruction due to oil palm cultivation.
"Now we need to take the next step. Suppliers need to move to meet the criteria, by getting certified both the palm oil from their own plantations and the palm oil they buy from elsewhere," Cescau said in a statement. "We also intend to support the call for an immediate moratorium on any further deforestation in Indonesia for palm oil." The statement continues: "We are committed to doing this because we believe it is the right thing to do for the people who use our products, for the environment and communities in and around which palm oil is grown and for our business and our brands."
Report: Burning Up Borneo
It's a big step for the company which uses 4% of the total global production of palm oil, used in product brands such as Dove, Dirt is Good (Persil, Omo, Surf Excel), Knorr, HeartBrand (Walls) and HealthyHeart (Flora/Becel). Unilever's statement came shortly after Greenpeace's scathing report late last month which showed that the company's suppliers are ravaging the habitats of the endangered orangutan for oil palm plantations. The report, titled How Unilever Palm Oil Suppliers are Burning Up Borneo, uncovers how Unilever was unable to trace at least 20% of its palm oil sources.
Despite Unilever's shame-faced response, Greenpeace says the move will have little effect unless other buyers also follow through to force suppliers to stop their aggressive expansion into remaining rainforests.
The report states: "Unilever has failed to use its power to lead the palm oil sector toward sustainability, either through its own palm oil purchasing — its primary suppliers in Indonesia represent over a third of the country's palm oil production — or through its role as leader of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), whose members represent 40% of global palm oil production."
Greenpeace: Unilever's response "meaningless" without further pressure on suppliers
According to the Greenpeace report and Wetlands International, Indonesia has the dubious honour of being the country with the world's fastest rate of deforestation, in addition to ranking third in carbon emissions due to rapid deforestation and loss of carbon-rich peatlands.
"Unilever's commitment to sourcing sustainable palm oil will be meaningless unless its suppliers stop trashing Indonesia's rainforests - this is why the moratorium is so important," says Tim Birch, a Greenpeace International forest campaigner. "Every day Unilever keeps buying palm oil from these suppliers, orangutans are being pushed closer to extinction and climate change continues unabated."
::How Unilever Palm Oil Suppliers are Burning Up Borneo (Greenpeace)
::Southeast Asia Paying High Environmental Cost For Palm Oil
::Palm Oil: A Rainforest in your Shopping
::Rainforest Action Network on Palm Oil
::25 Most Endangered Primate Species Could "Fit Into Single Football Stadium"