Today, Rainforest Action Network (RAN) released a new progress report, titled Testing Commitments to Cut Conflict Palm Oil, ranking the relative strength of palm oil commitments made since the launch of its Snack Food 20 campaign two years ago. The 2015 progress report shines a spotlight on the laggards in the Snack Food 20 and outlines the actions that these companies — as well as the frontrunners who are pushing ahead on their commitments — can and must take to rapidly cut Conflict Palm Oil from our food system.
Just a few years ago, very few people in the U.S. had heard of Conflict Palm Oil, but the ubiquitous oil’s profile has since gone prime time, with voluminous media attention including feature programs on Showtime, HBO and CNN. Now a high-profile issue — as its production has been identified as a primary driver of deforestation in Southeast Asia and parts of Africa and South America — the controversial but popular ingredient is found in roughly half the packaged goods sold in grocery stores. Over the past 18 months, consumer, investor and NGO demand has continued to pressure many of the largest players in the palm oil industry to make or make good on public commitments to clean up their supply chains. The question many are asking now is, what do all these commitments really mean and how much more is needed before the palm oil industry is truly no longer driving deforestation, human rights abuses, land conflict and climate change?
RAN says true leaders have cut Conflict Palm Oil from their global supply chains by adopting and fully implementing a time-bound responsible palm oil procurement policy. They can guarantee to their customers that all their branded products, regardless of which country they are sold in, are free of Conflict Palm Oil. While some companies have moved further than others, none of the Snack Food 20 has yet reached this goal.
The new progress report highlights companies including Mondelez International, Hershey, Nestlé and Mars as frontrunners, and finds that many laggards — including Mac N Cheese, Sara Lee, Pepperidge Farm, Top Ramen, Cup Noodles, Heinz/Kraft and Weight Watchers — have a long way to go to cut Conflict Palm Oil from their supply chains.
“As palm oil plantations continue to spread across Indonesia, Malaysia and beyond to Africa, Papua New Guinea and Latin America, endangered rainforests are falling faster than ever and systematic abuse of communities and workers’ rights remains rife throughout the industry,” said Gemma Tillack, Agribusiness Campaign Director for RAN. “While a new global benchmark has recently been set for what is acceptable as truly responsible palm oil production, much more is needed to drive real change to the ground. Remaining laggards like PepsiCo have no excuses left not to act now and do everything in their power to root out and eliminate bad actors from their supply chains wherever they are found.”
The report also shows Unilever, considered to be an early mover in addressing its palm oil sustainability, falling behind the frontrunner companies, which are demanding an end to the destruction of forests, peatlands and human rights abuses across their entire operations, not merely the plantations they control directly. To be true leaders, RAN says PepsiCo and Unilever need to take further action to transform their global palm oil supply chains.
“Adopting clear commitments is a crucial first step — but commitments alone are meaningless if they are not tied to actionable, time-bound implementation plans. A major challenge now lies in transforming the Snack Food 20 company commitments into real change on the ground for forests and the communities that depend on them,” Tillack says.
RAN says it will continue to put each company’s commitment to the test by demanding that they cut suppliers caught trafficking Conflict Palm Oil, with a special scrutiny on any sourcing from the high-priority conservation region of the Leuser Ecosystem in Sumatra.