22 May 2008
Greenpeace has urged buyers to help prevent the destruction of rainforests caused by oil palm trees and to create a market for sustainable palm oil.
The call follows plans announced by consumer goods company Unilever earlier this month. It wants an immediate end to deforestation in Indonesia, and has promised to ensure all the palm oil it buys is certified as sustainable by 2015.
Environmental campaigners have urged other firms to support the issue. Since 1990, nine million hectares of oil palm trees have been planted on former Indonesian rainforest.
"That Unilever has come aboard is a good start. But there must be a change from buyers and suppliers," said Belinda Fletcher, senior forest campaigner at Greenpeace.
"They now have a real leadership role and we need other major players such as Procter & Gamble, Kraft and Nestlé to support it."
She added that coalitions of buyers had been successful at changing similar problems in the past, citing the role taken by McDonald's in helping prevent rainforest clearance in Brazil.
Procter & Gamble plans to make sure the palm oil it buys is certified sustainable by 2015. It also pledged to "support efforts to eliminate irresponsible or illegal deforestation".
In 2007, 42.4 million tonnes of palm oil were produced worldwide. Demand for the commodity - used in food, personal care products and biofuels - is expected to double by 2030, and triple by 2050, driven by increased demand from developing nations.
Unilever is pushing its suppliers to get palm oil from their own plantations and oil they buy elsewhere certified. Spokespeople from Kraft and Nestlé also highlighted the work of their own suppliers on the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) - a group of buyers, suppliers, producers and retailers of which Unilever is currently the chair.
Palm oil certified as sustainable should be available on the market in the second half of the year but, according to Adam Harrison, senior policy adviser, food and agriculture at the Worldwide Fund for Nature, buyers will need to push suppliers towards its use.
But Fletcher added that targets for buying oil from certified sources would not mean a great deal without a moratorium on deforestation at the same time.