Greenpeace International tonight launched a report calling out a host of consumer products companies — including Colgate Palmolive, Mondelez International (formerly Kraft), Nestlé Oil, Procter & Gamble, Reckitt Benckiser and a host of other companies — as guilty by association for rainforest destruction in Indonesia, a crucial habitat region for the endangered Sumatran tiger.
A License to Kill: How Deforestation for Palm Oil Is Driving Sumatran Tigers Toward Extinction links the companies to Singapore-based Wilmar International, the world’s largest palm oil processor, which accounts for over one-third of the global palm oil processing market and has a distribution network covering over 50 countries.
“Many people don’t realize there’s palm oil in all kinds of everyday products — from cookies to shampoo. So how would they know that Oreo cookies or Gillette shaving gel are actually linked to rainforest destruction?” said Dr Amy Moas, Greenpeace’s Senior Forest Campaigner. “We have evidence that palm oil supplier Wilmar International, which sells to these household brands, sources from companies who are complicit in the destruction of tiger habitat. This must stop before Sumatran tigers go from endangered to extinct.”
According to Greenpeace, although Wilmar has undertaken to preserve high conservation value (HCV) forests and peatland on its own concessions, these areas supply less than 4% of the palm oil it trades and refines, with the remainder being produced by third-party suppliers.
Wilmar International is a member of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), which was formed in 2004 to promote the use of sustainable palm oil through credible global standards and engagement of stakeholders. RSPO members account for roughly 40% of global palm oil production; as of late 2012, 15% of palm oil was RSPO-certified. But according to Greenpeace, "RSPO is the largest ‘sustainability’ organisation in the palm oil sector, but its standards do not ban deforestation for plantations or peatland." In fact, the effectiveness of the organization's standards in promoting responsible palm oil production was also called into question earlier this year by the WWF, which released a report revealing that only 38% of RSPO member producers are making adequate progress towards the goal of becoming sustainable.
In relation to Wilmar, Greenpeace has linked the company to deep peatland fires in oil palm concessions, as well as wholesale rainforest destruction, illegal oil palm plantations and extensive clearance of both tiger and orangutan habitat. Wilmar is known to own, have a significant stake in or trade with most of the producers Greenpeace has documented as engaging in such irresponsible or illegal activities.
The decline of Sumatran tigers is a measure of the loss of rainforest, biodiversity and climate stability. The rampant deforestation has left the region vulnerable to fires, and this summer huge blazes raged across the Sumatran province of Riau, destroying hundreds of thousands of hectares of rainforests — including the deep peatland forests that are a last stand of tiger habitat in the province. The fires released record amounts of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and pollutants in a haze that stretched as far as Thailand.
According to the report, Wilmar stated in July 2013 that, “In response to the recent haze ... we will terminate our business relationship with any suppliers found to be flouting the law against forest burning. This is a strong demonstration of our effort to influence the industry.”
Earlier this month, when Greenpeace approached Wilmar about the cause of the fires, in areas from which the company sources, Wilmar responded in a letter that the case appeared to be one of ‘negligence’ and peatland mismanagement rather than deliberate burning. Greenpeace says this demonstrates a lack of initiative on Wilmar’s part to investigate the cause of any fires in its suppliers’ concessions. Instead, it appears to be relying on others, such as the RSPO, to prove supplier responsibility, and Greenpeace has heard no mention of contracts being cancelled as promised. The letter also makes no comment on the evidence that most of the concession is mapped as deep peat and therefore legally off-limits to oil palm plantation development.
“Greenpeace’s investigation shows that Wilmar is prioritising trade over a legal, responsible supply chain through its failure to hold suppliers to account for the impact of negligent operations,” the report says.
“As the world’s biggest player in the palm oil sector, Wilmar has the power to transform the industry," said Bustar Maitar, head of the Indonesian Forest Campaign for Greenpeace International. "But until Wilmar commits to a no-deforestation policy, their trade of palm oil to big household brands such as P&G, Mondelez and Reckitt Benckiser make consumers unwitting accomplices in the extinction of Indonesia’s 400 remaining Sumatran tigers.”
Greenpeace is calling on all stakeholders, including corporate consumers, to commit to ensuring their commodity supply chains — including palm oil, paper and packaging — do not contribute to continued deforestation.
No stranger to controversy, Wilmar was also taken to task earlier this year by two former Girl Scouts. On August 1, activists Rhiannon Tomtishen and Madison Vorva, along with over 100,000 signatories from the U.S. and around the world, petitioned the CEO of the Kellogg Company — maker of Girl Scout Cookies — to end the company’s partnership with the palm oil supplier unless it agreed to stop relying on deforestation.