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World's Largest Palm Oil Trader Gives Forest Destroyers Nowhere to Hide

After an intensive global campaign by Greenpeace, Wilmar International has published a detailed action plan to map and monitor its palm oil suppliers.

This week, the world’s largest palm oil trader, Wilmar International, published a detailed action plan to map and monitor all of its suppliers. If implemented, this would put the palm oil giant — which supplies 40 percent of the world’s palm oil — one step closer to finally eliminating deforestation from its supply chain, and would have major implications for the rest of the industry.

“Wilmar supplies palm oil to most of the world’s major food and cosmetics brands. So, today’s announcement is a potential breakthrough,” said Kiki Taufik, Global Head of Indonesian Forests Campaign at Greenpeace Southeast Asia. “If Wilmar keeps its word, by the end of 2019 it will be using satellites to monitor all of its palm oil suppliers, making it almost impossible for them to get away with forest destruction. Greenpeace will be watching closely to make sure Wilmar delivers.”

The move follows an intensive global campaign by Greenpeace that aimed to end deforestation for palm oil across the supply chain of the biggest household brands and palm oil buyers in the world. Over 1.3 million people signed a Greenpeace petition calling for an end to deforestation for palm oil.

And last month, UK grocery chain Iceland adapted an animated short film from Greenpeace on the devastating impacts of palm oil-related deforestation into its annual Christmas ad (much to the dismay of ad regulators, who banned it). Greenpeace says it is now pausing its campaign to give Wilmar space to put its new plan into action.

In December 2013, Wilmar became the first palm oil trader to adopt a ‘no deforestation, no peat, no exploitation’ policy that applied to its own plantations and those of its suppliers, and has made good on its commitment in several ways. But it appears that one of the ways Wilmar has measured its progress to date is based on the amount of its palm oil that is certified by the RSPO — a controversial body long criticized by industry stakeholders for needing more rigorous standards.

By the end of 2014, all major palm oil traders had followed Wilmar’s lead and adopted similar forest-conservation policies — yet, deforestation continues, because traders and their customers lack the maps needed to monitor what happens on the ground.

Wilmar’s new action plan is designed to address that gap: It commits Wilmar to map its suppliers’ entire landbank by the end of 2019, including concessions from which it does not yet source, and to use high-resolution satellite monitoring to check for deforestation. Companies caught clearing rainforest are to be immediately suspended.

Wilmar’s announcement puts pressure on the rest of the sector, including other major commodities traders including Golden Agri Resources and Musim Mas, that also source palm oil from forest destroyers. Household brands such as Mondelez, Nestlé and Unilever source from many different suppliers and have a responsibility to see equivalent commitments rolled out across the industry.

“As the world wakes up to the climate and extinction crisis, inaction is not an option. Wilmar has taken an important step and must now put its plan into action immediately,” Taufik said. “Stopping deforestation requires industry-wide action. Other traders and brands must now follow with credible plans to map and monitor all of their suppliers. Equally important is action to end exploitation and human rights abuses in the palm oil sector.”

1In December 2010, members of the Consumer Goods Forum, an industry association comprising 450 of the biggest consumer-facing brands, committed to eliminate deforestation from their supply chains of agricultural commodities including cattle, palm oil, pulp and soya products by 2020.