Snack food giants fall short on palm oil deforestation promises

Snack food giants fall short on palm oil deforestation promises
Courtesy of Rainforest Action Network

Major snack food companies have failed to meet their own pledges to eliminate deforestation and exploitation of farmers in the palm oil supply chain, according to a new global analysis.

The detailed assessment from Rainforest Action Network (RAN) analysed the successes and failures of the companies most responsible for the problems caused by conflict palm oil – palm oil that has been produced illegally or under conditions associated with labour or human rights violations or ongoing destruction of rainforests.

The findings follow policy promises made by the world’s largest snack food companies to eliminate human rights abuses and forest destruction from their supply chains in response to intense public pressure.

RAN issued in-depth surveys to eight of the largest global consumers of palm oil on key aspects of the implementation of their policies in their palm oil supply chains – stretching across Indonesia to the Amazon and the Congo – with special scrutiny on the level of commitment, and interventions taken, to protect the lowland rainforests and peatlands of the Leuser Ecosystem, the heart of southeast Asia’s rainforest region, from palm oil expansion.

“Our assessment has found that the paper promises of Unilever, Nestlé, PepsiCo, Mondelēz, General Mills, Kellogg’s, Mars and The Hershey Company have not stopped deforestation, threats to endangered species, or delivered respect for human rights or remedy for exploitation of Indigenous Peoples, local communities and workers,” said Robin Averbeck with RAN.

The assessment found that, in 2020, the actions taken by the major snack food brands have fallen short of what’s needed to address the impacts of their ever-growing consumption of Conflict Palm Oil.

The traceability, monitoring, verification and grievance systems that all eight snack food giants have established and rely upon, are simply not yet effective in preventing products from being contaminated with Conflict Palm Oil.

Over the past five years some progress has been made to reform the palm oil industry. Most of the ‘Snack Food 20’ companies named by RAN have adopted responsible palm oil policies that prohibit deforestation, peatland development and exploitation.

 

Unilever, the world’s largest single buyer of palm oil, has made some progress, it said, through its investments in establishing collaborative deforestation monitoring systems and innovative ways to track the source of the palm oil it uses, but has still fallen short on the delivery of forest protection, remedy for labour and land rights abuse prevalent in its supply chain, and lacks adequate systems for identifying, cutting or reforming suppliers responsible for atrocities including the use of violence, intimidation or criminalization of Human Rights Defenders.

In the last month, Unilever, PepsiCo, Nestlé, and The Hershey Company have each delivered much-needed commitments to protect the Leuser Ecosystem from further destruction fuelled by their sourcing of Conflict Palm Oil from the region.

Kellogg’s, General Mills and Mondelēz are performing the worst with only minimal actions being reported to consumers concerned about the use of Conflict Palm Oil to manufacture cereals and chocolates, and candies.

All companies have increased transparency and begun reporting on the palm oil mills they source from. But, to date, not one company can communicate to consumers the plantations, or farms, where all the palm oil they sourced was grown. RAN says that achieving this level of traceability is an integral towards the full implementation of their responsible palm oil policy commitments.

“The threats to tropical rainforests have never been greater. Despite corporate commitments against deforestation, forests around the world continue to fall,” said Averbeck.

“The science is clear that we only have a few years to avert the worst effects of climate change, which threatens the future livability of our very planet, for our species and countless others. There are no credible reasons why these Snack Food Giants should be sourcing Conflict Palm Oil.”