Brands failing on palm oil deforestation

17 January 2020

Major global brands are failing to meet commitments to end deforestation in palm oil supply chains by 2020, according to two seperate reports. 

In its annual Palm Oil Scorecard, WWF found only 15 out of 173 global retailers, consumer goods manufacturers and food service companies were “leading the way” on reducing palm oil-related deforestation.

Brands were awarded up to 22 points by WWF based on a questionnaire covering actions to tackle impacts, including within supply chains, and what they were doing to clean up the wider sector. 

Ferrero, the Italian manufacturer of goods including Nutella, was the only brand to receive over 21 points. It was followed by German retailers Edeka (19.8) and Kaufland (19.3), L’Oréal (19.3) and Ikea (19).

According to WWF, the highest-performing firms made and followed through on public commitments to embed sustainable palm oil in their supply chains and invested time and resources to support a responsible industry beyond their own supply chain.

However, 30 brands were deemed to be “lagging behind” when it came to ending deforestation in palm oil supply chains, and 41 failed to respond to WWF’s questionnaire. 

“The scorecard revealed a large number of companies that have done little or nothing at all to ensure the sustainability of their own supply chain or to promote sustainability within the palm oil industry,” the report said. 

Emma Keller, agricultural commodities manager at WWF UK, said: “Consumers don’t want their food or other purchases to come with a side order of deforestation and destruction of wildlife – but after a decade of promises, too many companies have failed to deliver. 

“UK companies must prove to their customers that they’re not selling products involved in destroying nature – and that they’re fully committed to a world where unsustainable palm oil no longer exists.”

Separately, a report by Rainforest Action Network (RAN) found no major food brands have adequately taken care to avoid “conflict palm oil”, the production of which is believed to lead to the destruction of rainforests and peatlands and contribute to the exploitation of indigenous communities and workers. 

RAN ranked eight global food brands – Unilever, Nestlé, PepsiCo, Mondelez, General Mills, Kellogg’s, Mars and The Hershey Company – on their progress cutting conflict palm oil from supply chains. 

Kellogg’s, General Mills and Mondelez were the worst-performing brands. While all of the firms were found to have increased transparency and started reporting on the palm oil mills they source from, “not one company can communicate to consumers the plantations or farms where all the palm oil they sourced was grown”, RAN said. 

Unilever, the world’s largest single buyer of palm oil, was found to have made some progress through investments in collaborative deforestation-monitoring systems and tracking the source of the palm oil it uses. 

However, RAN said the brand had still fallen short on the “delivery of forest protection and remedy for labour and land rights abuse prevalent in its supply chain”. It added Unilever, like its peers, also lacked adequate systems for “identifying, cutting or reforming suppliers responsible for atrocities” including violence and intimidation.  

“Our assessment has found that the paper promises have not stopped deforestation, threats to endangered species, or delivered respect for human rights or remedy for exploitation,” said Robin Averbeck, forest campaigner at RAN.

The reports come as the target set out by the Consumer Goods Forum to achieve net-zero deforestation in supply chains by 2020 approaches, an initiative set out a decade ago. The forum is due to meet in London in June.

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