Candymaker Mars Says Its Palm Oil Is Finally Deforestation-Free

The company has slashed its supply chain, which allows for closer monitoring.

Palm seeds used for palm oil
Palm seeds used for palm oil.

slpu9945 / Getty Images 

Candy giant Mars, Inc. says it has finally achieved deforestation-free sources for palm oil. This is a huge announcement for an industry that has long been vilified for its connection to rainforest-razing palm oil plantations and elevated greenhouse gas emissions. 

By reducing the number of palm oil suppliers it works with, Mars says it is now working only with those committed to high environmental, social, and ethical standards. Whereas it used to source from 1,500 palm oil mills, that number is on track to shrink to 100 by 2021, and then reduce by half again by 2022.

Mars uses satellite technology to track and monitor land-use changes among suppliers. Chief procurement and sustainability officer Barry Parkin told Bloomberg, "If a fire starts somewhere in one of the areas that we’re sourcing from, an alert will go off and ground verification will happen. If it’s found that a supplier has done something wrong, they are immediately dropped out of our supply chain and then the investigation happens and they get a chance to explain it." 

In order to tighten up the palm oil supply chain, the company has implemented a 1:1:1 model. A press release explains that this means "palm is grown on one plantation, processed through one mill and one refinery before reaching Mars." The fewer suppliers there are, the easier it is to monitor and ensure standards are being met. This has the additional benefit of reducing costs for the company.

Now that Mars has achieved its own "clean" supply chain, the next step is to ensure that its remaining suppliers have the same. Parkin said this will be accomplished within the next few years and that suppliers will be rewarded with "more business and longer contracts."

Is It Enough?

While Mars' announcement has been well-received for the most part, some environmentalists are concerned about what will happen to smaller-scale palm oil producers unless other confectionery companies follow the example set by Mars. Andika Putraditama, sustainable commodities and business manager at the World Resources Institute Indonesia, told Reuters that it's "a good outcome for both Mars and its handful of suppliers," but that "this type of strategy can only deliver industry-changing impact if more buyers ... do the same."

WWF's director of commodity markets, Margaret Arbuthnot, said there must be a broader industry shift. "It’s not just [Mars'] current supply chains that matter, but that it’s shifting the whole industry to sustainability so that they have those supplies available in the future."

Greenpeace is less convinced by these measures. Senior forest campaigner Diana Ruiz compared shortening the supply chain to "trying to fix a leaky faucet in a burning building." She pointed out that, over the past decade since Mars started saying it would fight deforestation, a staggering 50 million hectares of rainforest have been lost to make room for commodities such as soy, palm oil, cocoa, meat, and dairy.

"Deforestation for palm oil and soy goes hand-in-hand with forest fires, and has created a recurring public health emergency in Indonesia and Brazil, further increasing greenhouse gas emissions and threatening the lives of Indigenous Peoples and local communities," Ruiz said.

The ultimate goal should be to move away from using such highly destructive commodities. "For global companies to really tackle the ecological and climate breakdown, they must drastically reduce overall consumption of commodities linked to land-use change, such as palm oil, meat and soy, and transition to a just food system that puts people and nature first."