Activists commend Kellogg, but urge swift action on palm oil

The US-based Rainforest Action Network has welcomed the new sustainable palm oil commitment made by the food manufacturing company Kellogg, but says fast implementation is needed “to eliminate conflict palm oil from Kellogg’s products”.

RAN said Kellogg’s annoncement was notable as it went beyond the often-criticised sustainability standards of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO).

“Kellogg has taken a step in the right direction,” said RAN’s senior forest campaigner Gemma Tillack, “but a statement of intent is not the same as a binding, time-bound responsible palm oil policy.

“For communities and orangutans in Indonesia, what matters now is that Kellogg puts this commitment into action with thorough and rapid implementation.”

RAN is not alone in calling the RSPO guidelines inadequate. The US-based Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) says the standards “do not yet represent the best science regarding forest conservation and carbon emissions”.

Certified sustainable palm oil, the scientists point out, is not guaranteed to be deforestation-free, and the destruction of peatlands is not banned.

Palm-Oil infographic-2-6-14-2216pxInfographic by the Union of Concerned Scientists

Producers only have to certify a portion of their crop as sustainable to become RSPO members. If a company had a 15,000 hectare concession and half of it was covered with forest, it would only have to agree to protect a portion of that forest to satisfy the RSPO criteria.

2015 deadline

In its announcement on February 14, Kellogg said it was making a commitment to only buy palm oil that is fully traceable and has been produced in an environmentally responsible manner.

“As a socially responsible company, traceable, transparent sourcing of palm oil is important to us, and we are collaborating with our suppliers to make sure the palm oil we use is not associated with deforestation, climate change or the violation of human rights,” said Diane Holdorf, Kellogg’s chief sustainability officer.

Heldorf said Kellogg was working through its supply chain to ensure that the palm oil it uses is sourced from plantations that uphold the company’s commitment to protect forests and peatlands as well as human and community rights.

Kellogg would require all palm oil suppliers to trace their oil to plantations that were independently verified as legally compliant, Holdorf said. This meant that producers selling to Kellogg would have to adhere to the company’s principles for protecting forests, peat lands and communities and comply with all the RSPO principles and criteria.

“Suppliers must comply with the requirement by December 31, 2015, or be working to close any gaps identified in their action plans,” Holdorf added.

Mixed reception

The Kellogg announcement has been given a mixed reception. “While it’s a start, I do not see why Kellogg can’t go a step further and stop using palm oil altogether,” said one commentator on the CARE2 news network website. “If I know an item contains palm oil, I refuse to buy it.”

Other contributors said the Kellogg commitment was greenwash and an empty promise and argued that there is no such thing as sustainable palm oil.

A more optimistic contributor said: “Baby steps are better than no steps. We must keep the pressure on. We can help.”

While Boycott Palm Oil campaigns do put pressure on companies to move towards deforestation-free production, there are many who say it is not the full solution; that, on its own, it is impractical and unrealistic and that there are viable sustainability options.

The UCS said the Kellogg commitment would help pull the industry in the right direction and the scientists particularly welcomed the reference to protecting carbon-rich peatlands.

“Palm oil can be grown without destroying tropical forests or our climate,” said Sharon Smith, campaign manager for the UCS’s Tropical Forest & Climate Initiative.

2011-12-21T084224Z_01_JAK01_RTRIDSP_3_INDONESIADeforestation in Indonesia; photo by Roni Bintang.

The UCS says the deforestation caused by palm oil production is driving global warming.

The scientists hope that the commitments outlined by Kellogg will soon become industry requirements.

“We’d like to see all palm oil producers making oils with these values and companies walking away from suppliers that cannot prove their palm oil is deforestation-free, peat-free, and conflict-free,” Smith said.

“So far, Kellogg is riding high. But the real question is whether the company is moving fast enough and aggressively enough to make this commitment a reality in time to address a rapidly changing climate?”

Call for action

RAN has called on people to ring or tweet Kellogg, or post a message on the company’s Facebook wall, commending it for its new commitment and urging the company to put its words into action quickly.

In December 2013, the Singapore-based palm oil producer and trader Wilmar announced that it would commit to supplying palm oil that was deforestation-free and did not violate human rights.

“Wilmar indicated that they are responding to the rising market demand for traceable, responsibly produced vegetable oil,” said Sharon Smith. “If the company is genuine in its commitment, this could be a game-changer for the industry.”

The UCS has also welcomed statements by Unilever and Ferrerro Chocolates that, by the end of 2014, all of the palm oil they buy globally will be traceable. L’Oréal had also adopted a deforestation-free policy that, in writing, was quite strong on palm oil, Smith said.

Kellogg was put under pressure after two girl scouts, Rhiannon Tomtishen and Madison Vorva, challenged the company for using palm oil in Girl Scout cookies, which are produced by a Kellogg subsidiary.

The girls highlighted the deforestation being caused by oil palm cultivation and the threats to endangered species like orangutans and eventually persuaded Girl Scouts of the USA to make a sustainable palm oil commitment. They are still pushing for tougher action to protect forests and wildlife.

RAN’s “Last Stand of the Orangutan” campaign, launched in autumn 2013, calls on Kellogg and 19 other top snack food companies – dubbed “The Snack Food 20” – to “address their use of Conflict Palm Oil connected to rainforest destruction, orangutan extinction, human rights violations, and climate pollution”.

Rainforest and kellogg

Experts in wildlife protection say habitat destruction is bringing the Sumatran orangutan to the brink of extinction.

Close to 90 percent of the world’s palm oil is produced in Indonesia and Malaysia.

As recently as the 1960s, 82 percent of Indonesia was covered with tropical rainforests, but the country now has one of the fastest deforestation rates in the world.

Palm oil and tropical deforestation