Palm oil has become a consumer product staple, used in everything from food and fuel to beauty products and cleaning agents. The dramatic rise in demand has driven increases in deforestation, and NGOs such as Greenpeace and the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) have continued to keep the issue in the spotlight by engaging with companies, consumers and the industry at large.
“It’s wonderful to see major brands step up and demand deforestation-free palm oil,” Sharon Smith, campaign manager with UCS’ Tropical Forest & Climate Initiative, said of the Colgate-Palmolive commitment. “We’ve seen that when consumers speak out, companies listen, and when the companies demand better palm oil, producers on the ground follow suit. Not only will this improved process reduce emissions, but it’s also a win for consumers.”
General Mills’ announcement pertains to an update to its 2010 policy on responsible palm oil sourcing that now includes a traceability component that was lacking in the previous version. While this addition is necessary to helping the company ensure that its products are deforestation-free, and the company still insists on a 2015 goal for implementation, UCS says there are still glaring omissions in the policy.
“General Mills seems out of touch with the industry definition of High Carbon Stock forests, a method used to identify critically important forests,” Smith said. “The company claims there isn’t an industry methodology — an argument generally used to justify cutting down important forests — but in fact, there is an established method and General Mills needs to adopt it. This policy update is certainly an improvement for General Mills, but the company will need to follow through if it wants to demonstrate a true commitment to reducing deforestation.”
Meanwhile, just today Colgate-Palmolive announced a new commitment to making its products deforestation-free, including achieving full traceability of its palm oil supply back to the plantation by 2015. Under its new policy, Colgate-Palmolive commits to responsibly source the forest commodities of pulp and paper, palm oil and derivatives, soy and soy oil and beef tallow
Colgate-Palmolive’s policy recognizes the need to go beyond the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO)’s certification schemes in order to remove deforestation from its products. Importantly, the policy specifically mentions protecting peatlands, High Conservation Value and High Carbon Stock forests, as well as safeguarding community rights.
“Colgate-Palmolive’s policy to source responsible palm oil is a vast improvement,” Smith said. “They scored high marks for committing to protect peatlands, carbon-rich areas of decayed vegetation, as well as High Carbon Stock forests, areas of critically important forests.
“The one defect in Colgate-Palmolive’s plan is its timetable,” she added. “The company plans to fully implement this commitment by 2020 — that’s six years of climate emissions from deforestation and peatland conversion as well as labor violations that the company will condone before they demand full compliance with the policy. While the commitment itself is looking good, Colgate-Palmolive should speed up the implementation timetable.”
While welcoming its commitment to palm oil traceability by 2015, Greenpeace said it will push Colgate-Palmolive to implement its No Deforestation policy before its stated 2020 deadline.
Greenpeace was also quick to point out that Colgate’s announcement further isolates competitor Procter & Gamble, which has so far failed to adopt an effective No Deforestation policy despite years of pressure from Greenpeace and other NGOs.
“With pledges from Unilever, Nestlé, L’Oréal and now Colgate-Palmolive to clean up their supply chains, P&G is choosing to lag behind its competition. The hundreds of thousands of people powering our campaign to end deforestation must be wondering what P&G’s next step will be: more greenwashing or real action?” said Areeba Hamid, forest campaigner at Greenpeace International.
Since 2007, Greenpeace has been confronting P&G on how it is exposing its consumers to forest destruction during which time the company has failed to take any adequate action. Prominent RSPO members, such as Musim Mas and KLK, both suppliers to P&G, continue to clear forests.
UCS recently graded the palm oil sourcing commitments of 30 top companies, including Colgate-Palmolive and General Mills. The scorecard found that 24 of these household brands have inadequate commitments or lack commitments altogether. If General Mills and Colgate-Palmolive make good on their new policies, it should help raise their rather meager scores — 42.6 and 44.9 out of 100, respectively.