Unilever acts over Greenpeace’s palm oil claims

By Mike Stones

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Greenhouse gas

Unilever has halted all purchases of palm oil from Indonesian company PT SMART after a Greenpeace report alleged that its parent group Sinar Mas is engaged in widespread illegal deforestation and peatland clearance in Indonesia.

According to the pressure group’s report, Illegal forest clearance and RSPO (​Round Table on Sustainable Palm Oil) greenwash: Case studies of Sinar Mas​, the company is “…engaging in practices which release vast amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and help Indonesia win the title of the world’s third largest greenhouse gas emitter, after China and the US​.”

Sinar Mas’s actions break Indonesian law and highlight how membership of the RSPO alone is not sufficient proof of a company’s environmental credentials, alleges Greenpeace.

A Unilever spokesperson told FoodNavigator.com: “The Greenpeace claims about​ (PT SMART) breaking RSPO guidelines are too serious for us to ignore​.”

Sustainable sourcing

Marc Engel, the company’s chief procurement officer, added: “Unilever is committed to sustainable sourcing. Therefore, we have notified PT SMART that we have no choice but to suspend our future purchasing of palm oil.”

“If PT SMART are able to come forward with concrete proof that they are not involved in unacceptable environmental practices then we would certainly re-consider our position​.”

Earlier this year the company conducted an independent audit of its major suppliers which revealed some areas of concern. Unilever has promised to remedy these problems with the individual companies concerned.

One of the world's largest buyers of palm oil, Unilever purchases 1.5m tonnes a year for use in a wide range of products margarine, ice cream, soap and shampoo. The company reports what it terms “unprecedented demand for palm oil​” fueled by rising population and the growing affluence of India and China together with the growing popularity of biofuels.

Around three-quarters of the world's oil palm is grown in Indonesia and Malaysia where much of the recent expansion of the industry has been onto peatland and into tropical rainforest​,” according to Unilever’s website.

The clearance and burning of South-East Asia's peat forests release 2bn tonnes of greenhouse gases every year. According to some estimates, deforestation in Indonesia alone accounts for 4 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions – making it the third-highest emitter behind the US and China​.”

Sustainable

But the company believes the link between the cultivation of oil palm and climate change can be broken by creating a market that is sustainable and certified.

No one from Sinar Mas was available for comment before publication.

But following the showing of what it describes as “a Greenpeace theatrical show​," entitled “Sinar Mas - Forest and Climate Criminal​," the company responded: “Climate, location, following the productivity of land availability and labour are better able to make Indonesia a major player in the world's oil palm plantation sector.

“In addition, the development of oil palm plantations that are part of current government programs tend to use marginal lands that have been degraded. That's why the government encouraged the industrial sector - Sinar Mas by PT Sinar Mas Agro Resources and Technology Tbk(PT SMART Tbk.)…to develop this sector to promote environmentally friendly principles​.”

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