Environmentalists urge consumers to pressure PepsiCo over palm oil

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The Rainforest Action Network and Orangutan Outreach have joined forces to organise a Global Call-In Day tomorrow (December 9) to put pressure on the multinational PepsiCo to cut Conflict Palm Oil from its supply chain.

The organisations are urging consumers to ring PepsiCo and point out the link between palm oil production and deforestation and human rights violations.

PepsiCo issued a new palm oil sourcing policy in May and said it was committed to zero- deforestation sourcing by 2020, but environmentalists say there are serious weaknesses in the company’s pledge.

PepsiCo uses 457,200 tonnes of palm oil annually in snacks such as Cheetos and Lay’s potato chips.

“What Pepsi does has a huge impact on the climate, the rainforests of Southeast Asia, and the people and animals that rely on these forests for their lives and livelihoods,” RAN said. “The company is a major Conflict Palm Oil laggard. It is dragging its feet and is refusing to admit it even has a problem.”

PepsiCo could be a leader in sustainability, RAN says. “It could rise above its competitors and do the right thing, but, instead, it has relied on half measures and a commitment with gaps big enough to drive a bulldozer through.”

The number of multinational companies that say they are committed to supplying and using only deforestation-free palm oil is growing fast. More than 20 global food companies have now made no-deforestation pledges and the big traders Wilmar International and Golden Agri-Resources (GAR) have both made commitments that are far stronger than the standards established by the much-maligned Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO).

While there are still major concerns about implementation and timescales, there is great momentum and the pressure is growing on companies that are lagging behind on responsible sourcing.

Calen May-Tobin, from the US-based Union of Concerned Scientists, says companies’ recent sustainability announcements demonstrate the influence that consumers can have in instigating change.

Nestlé, he said, used to have one of the worst sustainability reputations, but responded to a consumer outcry, motivated by a Greenpeace campaign, and became the first company to commit to deforestation-free palm oil.

Richard Zimmerman from Orangutan Outreach (a non-profit organisation based in New York) urged people to pick up the phone and ring PepsiCo. “It only takes a moment and, for the orangutans, every single voice matters.”

pepsi Orangutan-Outreach-700-680x680PepsiCo’s commitment

When launching its new palm oil sourcing policy, PepsiCo said it was an improvement on its 2010 and 2013 pledges. In 2010, the company said it would source only RSPO-certified palm oil by 2015. In 2013, it stated that it would purchase 100 percent physical RSPO-certified palm oil by 2020.

PepsiCo says it is opposed to illegal or irresponsible deforestation practices. “While we are committed to the RSPO and its process and standards, we recognize that, in some regions of the world, additional measures may be necessary.”

The company has now made the following pledges, to be implemented by 2016:

  • the palm oil it uses will be sourced exclusively through suppliers who are members of the RSPO;
  • it will be confirmed to have originated from responsible and sustainable sources;
  • sourcing will be in compliance with PepsiCo’s Forestry Stewardship Policy, which includes adherence to the following principles:

– compliance with the applicable legal requirements of each country in which it operates and from which it sources;
– no further development on High Carbon Stock (HCS) or High Conservation Value (HCV) forests;
– no new conversion of peatlands; and
– adherence to the Free, Prior, and Informed Consent (FPIC) principles as defined and outlined in the PepsiCo Land Use Policy.

When PepsiCo issued its new policy, May-Tobin said the announcement that it was improving the way it sourced palm oil was good news, “but it could do more to ensure that it is delivering on its promise”.

The commitment lacked explicit efforts to trace palm oil back to the source, ensuring that it is deforestation-free, May-Tobin added. “It would be stronger if PepsiCo included independent verification of how suppliers are complying with their commitments.”

GreenPalm and mass balance

Many companies, including PepsiCo, fulfil their targets for the use of Certified Sustainable Palm Oil (CSPO) by using the controversial GreenPalm system under which companies can buy and sell certificates that are awarded for sustainable production. This is by no means the same as purchasing actual certified oil.

Companies buying the certificates can state that they have supported the sustainable production of palm oil, but there is no guarantee that all of their palm oil comes from sustainable sources.

Unilever, for example, states that 100 percent of its palm oil was sustainable as of 2012, but this is largely because of GreenPalm.

There are those who say the GreenPalm system is a disgrace and should be done away with, but others say the certificates are helping to increase the amount of sustainable oil on the market.

PepsiCo also uses the mass balance mixed-source supply system, which requires processors to purchase palm oil from certified sources, but allows them to mix it with conventional palm oil during transportation, processing, and packaging.

Consumer campaigns

In November, a RAN campaign forced PepsiCo to remove its Pepsi True product temporarily from Amazon after environmentalists left thousands of bad reviews.

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“PepsiCo wants to hide its rainforest destruction and delete its association with human rights abuses,” said Gabe Smalley from RAN. “The company wants to scrub away any connection it has to the extinction of the world’s last orangutans. But it can’t hide from the destruction that it refuses to eliminate from its supply chain.”

RAN’s Gemma Tillack said PepsiCo’s continued unwillingness to take responsibility for the consequences of the palm oil in its supply chain was shocking. “While more and more of its peers have acknowledged the crisis created by Conflict Palm Oil production and engaged with experts like us to adopt binding policies to root out the problem, PepsiCo continues to fry its chips and fill its products with palm oil sourced from unknown plantations.

”PepsiCo is one of the largest users of palm oil that has still refused to move and the brand’s status as a pervasive cultural icon adds that much more weight and influence to its actions. Tropical rainforests, endangered wildlife, and exploited labourers need PepsiCo to start taking this issue seriously and to take immediate steps to create real change.”

The organisation SumofUs has been campaigning heavily to get PepsiCo and other companies to clean up their palm oil supply chains. It launched a petition stating that PepsiCo’s palm oil commitment was weak, especially on preventing slavery. It also lacked a plan for implementation and provisions for enforcement, SumofUs said.

In a more recent petition, SumOfUs focuses on the Doritos snacks made by PepsiCo: “Doritos’ parent company, PepsiCo, could put a stop to the deforestation. But instead of leading the charge, PepsiCo is hanging back, issuing middling policies with gaps so big a parade of endangered pygmy elephants could fit through them.

“Deforestation in Southeast Asia has made Indonesia the third largest carbon emitter on Earth. The orangutan, the Sumatran tiger, and countless other endangered species are being pushed to the brink of extinction.

“Many workers are lured into palm oil plantations on false pretences, and have their passports confiscated.”

In their “call PepsiCo” campaign, RAN and Orangutan Outreach highlight the threat to the Leuser Ecosystem in the Aceh district of northern Sumatra, an area of more than 1.8 million hectares that is the only place on Earth where tigers, elephants, rhinos, and orangutans can be found living together in the wild.

“Every day bulldozers drive deeper and deeper in the last stands of rainforest in Indonesia and Malaysia,” said Zimmerman. “Why? To meet the ever growing demand for Conflict Palm Oil that is used in potato chips, crackers, and snack foods made by companies including PepsiCo.

“The only thing standing in the way of PepsiCo doing the right thing and taking a leadership position on this urgent issue is the company’s refusal to act.

“2014 has been a banner year for forest protection. A wide spectrum of global corporations have been doing the right thing and pledging to stop using Conflict Palm Oil. The orangutans want to know: What is PepsiCo waiting for?”

Global Call-In Day
Orangutan Outreach
SumOfUs petition

The artwork for Orangutan Outreach was painted by UK artist Nigel Follett.