Fries, face wash, and forests: new scorecard ranks companies on palm oil commitments

Packaged food manufacturers and some companies producing personal care products are progressing in their efforts to source deforestation-free palm oil, but there are many laggards in other sectors, according to a new scorecard produced by the  US-based Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS).

In its 2015 report, entitled “Fries, Face Wash, Forests: Scoring America’s Top Brands on Their Palm Oil Commitments”, the UCS says many companies – especially in the fast food and store brand sectors – have a long way to go to ensure their products do not contribute to deforestation.

In its second annual scorecard, the UCS ranked the palm oil sourcing commitments of 40 companies that use palm oil in their products.

“Much of this palm oil is produced in ways that involve the destruction of tropical forests and peatlands, adding to global warming emissions and reducing habitat for many already threatened species,” the UCS said. “The bad news is that too many companies are lagging behind, with weak commitments or none at all. The UCS is asking consumers to tell these companies that deforestation is an unacceptable ingredient in their products.”

In 2014, the UCS evaluated 30 companies. This year they have added a new sector, scoring the store brands of 10 retailers, including supermarkets, pharmacies, and discount stores.

Nestlé scores highest in the packaged food sector, followed by Danone, Kellogg’s, ConAgra Foods, and Unilever. Danone, Kellogg’s, and ConAgra Foods have made very significant progress, according to the new scorecard.

Colgate-Palmolive, Henkel, Procter & Gamble, and L’Oréal are the top four scorers in the personal care sector, with P&G making a big leap from a score of 16.1 in 2014 to 84.2 this year.

Eight out of 10 companies in the personal care sector improved their scores this year, and only Clorox, which is the parent company for Burt’s Bees, which describes itself as an “Earth friendly” natural personal care company, scored zero points.

The Dunkin’ Brands franchisor, whose brands include Dunkin’ Donuts and Baskin-Robbins, was the highest scoring fast food company, but five of the ten companies ranked in this sector scored a dismal zero. “Dunkin’ Brands was the first fast food company to make a commitment to fully protect forests and peatlands,” the UCS said.

In the store brands sector, Safeway came out on top, but six of the companies scored zero.

scorecard 0401ucs_palm_oil

Analyst with UCS’s Tropical Forest and Climate Initiative, Lael Goodman, said: “Palm oil is found in thousands of products that you might not connect with deforestation. Did you use products from Burt’s Bees or Avon this morning? Purchase a Starbucks pastry? Pick up a Whole Foods 365 product for dinner? Until these and other iconic brands commit to deforestation-free palm oil, their products might contribute to deforestation”

The UCS says, however, that consumers should not ditch the low-scoring brands. Palm oil, the scientists say, is not, in itself, the problem; it is production practices that are the issue.

The solution, the UCS says, is for companies to demand that they are supplied with palm oil that is produced without destroying forests and carbon-rich peatland. “This top-down action is the best way to change the production practices on the ground.”

Roni's pic 2011-12-21T084224Z_01_JAK01_RTRIDSP_3_INDONESIAForest clearance in Sumatra, Indonesia; photo by Roni Bintang.

The 2015 scorecard indicates that 32 of the 40 companies analysed do not have adequate commitments to protect forests or peatlands fully. Twelve of the 40 companies either do not have no-deforestation commitments, or their commitments were too weak to score.

The new report says that, of the 30 companies ranked in 2014 and again this year, 21 had improved their palm oil commitments, their sourcing practices, or both. Eight of the 40 companies ranked this year now have full commitments to protect forests and peatlands. They recognised, the UCS says, that full commitment could only be achieved by establishing traceability and transparency throughout their palm oil supply chain.


“An additional five companies have pledged to ensure the palm oil in their products is not associated with the destruction of any forests or peatlands, but have failed so far to commit fully to adequate accountability measures,” Goodman said.

“Kraft Foods and Clorox are the clear laggards in the packaged foods and personal care industries, respectively. Most companies lie somewhere in the middle. They have shown that they understand the need to move beyond the destructive practices of conventional palm oil. However, they are lacking critical elements in their commitments to assure consumers that their favourite brands will only use deforestation-free and peat-free palm oil.”

Goodman points out that many companies listed in UCS’s 2014 scorecard have responded to consumer and shareholder concerns by committing to source deforestation-free and peat-free palm oil. “The packaged foods and personal care sectors are areas where success is evident. Nearly all the packaged food companies, except Kraft Foods, have commitments. And six of the ten packaged food companies scored received high marks for their commitments. On the other hand, General Mills, HJ Heinz, Kraft Foods, and Mondelēz International still have more work to do.”

Mondelēz International, who produce Oreo and Ritz biscuits, actually scored worse this year than in 2014, dropping from 68.6 to 36.8, but the UCS does point to the impressive progress that has been made by many companies. Dunkin’ went up to 70 from last year’s score of zero. Estée Lauder Companies only scored 28.3, but this does compare favourably with its zero score last year.

Other companies scoring zero include the pizza company Domino’s, Target. and Wendy’s.

The world’s third largest fast food restaurant, Burger King, also scored dismally. “Since 2010, Burger King has said it is reviewing its overall rainforest policy to include all of its products,” Goodman said. “After five years of review, the company failed to produce a tropical forest commodities policy. Furthermore, it has not pledged to source deforestation-free, peat-free palm oil.”

Starbucks received only 10 points and a surprising finding was Whole Foods’ score of 30, which is close to Walmart’s score of 29.

“The scorecard looks behind savvy marketing campaigns and feel-good branding to uncover the environmental impacts these companies condone when they fail to ensure their inputs aren’t harming the environment,” Goodman said.

“No doubt companies are getting the message, but committing to source deforestation-free and peat-free palm oil is just a first step. All companies, even those with strong policies, still have a tremendous amount of work ahead to fulfil their palm oil commitments.

“Until companies actually implement their palm oil commitments and start making changes on the ground, critically important forests, wildlife, and local communities will remain at risk from expanding oil palm plantations.”

Goodman says, however, that company commitments are beginning to have ramifications across the supply chain. Seeing increased demand from their customers, palm oil traders have also begun making deforestation-free commitments.

“At the time of the last scorecard release, the only trader to have made a significant commitment to deforestation-free and peat-free palm oil was Wilmar. Now, 13 months later, the field has changed. A number of other traders, including Cargill, Bunge, Musim Mas and others, have made commitments of varying degrees, promising to decrease or entirely remove deforestation from their supply chains.”

According to the WWF, about half of the packaged food in supermarkets contains palm oil. It is present in all kinds of produce, ranging from biscuits and peanut butter to chocolate and ice cream; it’s in all kinds of ready meals and breakfast cereals, and in shampoo, cosmetics, shaving cream, soap, and industrial lubricants.

Over the past 25 years, the total oil palm plantation area has tripled, with current global estimates of more than 15 million hectares.

According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), oil palm plantations are the leading cause of rainforest destruction in Indonesia and Malaysia, who together produce close to 90 percent of the world’s palm oil.

Numerous species, including the Sumatran orangutan and tiger, are being pushed closer to extinction because of the loss of their habitat.

The 2014 scorecard