Behavior Change
NGOs Say Yum! Brands' New Palm Oil Commitment Is a Good Start, But It Lacks Meat

Today, Yum! Brands, the second-largest fast-food giant in America thanks to its KFC, Taco Bell and Pizza Hut brands, became the latest food company to commit to sourcing deforestation- and peat-free palm oil. NGOs including the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) and Greenpeace are applauding Yum! for being the biggest global fast food company to commit to sourcing better palm oil, but note that the commitment falls short of perfect.

According to Yum!'s new palm oil policy:

"Yum! is still committed to implementing its global nutritional policy that includes removal of palm oil as cooking oil in restaurants by 2017. In extenuating circumstances and by exception, markets that will not meet our nutrition policy timeline will have a plan in place to source 100% sustainable palm oil by the end of 2017.

Our goal is to source 100% of our palm oil from responsible and sustainable sources by the end of 2017. We will also give preference to suppliers that are RSPO-certified. In addition, we will source palm oil only from suppliers whose operations meet the following principles:

  • No development on High Conservation Value (HCV) landscape or High Carbon Stock (HCS) forests. While the HCS methodology is being refined by field testing and science review, new plantings should only be established in low carbon stock areas.
  • No development on peatlands regardless of depth, and use of best management practices for existing plantations on peat.
  • Compliance with country laws and regulations and our supplier code of conduct.
  • Prevention and resolution of social and/or land conflicts consistent with the principle of free prior and informed consent.
  • Traceability to the extraction mill and validation of fresh fruit bunches.
  • Through the Yum! Global Supplier Code of Conduct and our Human and Labor Rights Policy we are committed to the respect and protection of human rights including not employing underage children or forced laborers and prohibiting physical punishment or abuse."

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“Yum! Brands seems to have good intentions with this commitment, which will require the company to buy palm oil exclusively for cooking purposes that protects all forests and peatlands, swampy areas of carbon-rich soil. An upshot of the commitment is that it includes all cooking oil used in Yum! Brands’ restaurants across the globe,” said Lael Goodman, an analyst with UCS’s Tropical Forest and Climate Initiative. “The problem is that palm oil is also a common ingredient in some the company’s baked goods and sauces — products that are prepared by a third-party vendor — and are not covered under the commitment. This is where the commitment loses steam.

“Fast-forward to January 2018, when the commitment goes into effect,” Goodman continued. “If I’m eating a KFC meal including the Colonel’s Original Recipe fried chicken with a biscuit and gravy, Yum! Brands’ failure to expand their commitment to all palm oil uses means my finger lickin’ good chicken isn’t linked to deforestation, but my biscuit and gravy does not come with the same assurances.”

Palm oil is a common ingredient in products ranging from face cream to fast foods; as demand for the oil increases, so too does deforestation. Harmful carbon emissions are released when land is deforested to make way for oil palm plantations. In total, about 10 percent of all global warming emissions result from tropical deforestation.

Just yesterday, UCS released its 2015 Scorecard that scored the palm oil sourcing commitments of 40 companies including Yum!, which scored a zero. Goodman says today’s announcement will surely raise the company’s score somewhat, but if Yum! wants to be an environmental leader amongst fast food giants, the company should “extend its commitment to all forms of palm oil and bulk up its transparency efforts.”

Meanwhile, Rolf Skar, Forest Campaign Director at Greenpeace USA, said: “Yum!’s announcement moves the company closer to being deforestation-free, but there’s still room for improvement. Yum! needs to more clearly define terms like ‘high carbon stock forest’ and ‘best management practices’ for peatlands in order to make sure change really happens on the ground.”

Skar also called on the laggards in the rest of the fast food industry to establish responsible sourcing policies of their own.

“Fast food companies have multiple high-risk commodities like soy, beef and paper in their supply chains,” Skar added. “When it comes to social conflict and deforestation, Greenpeace wants to see Yum! Brands and the whole fast food industry address these issues in a comprehensive way — or risk their brands, reputations and bottom lines. In the absence of clear commitments to prevent forest destruction, companies like Burger King and Subway are falling further behind and should work quickly to develop standards for the global commodities they buy.”

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