As I settle back into my San Francisco office, I reflect back on my time surrounded by representatives from some of the world’s largest consumer companies (many from the US) as we all gathered in a posh Jakarta hotel conference room, as part of the Tropical Forest Alliance (TFA) 2020 meeting in late June. Consumer companies, palm oil producers, pulp & paper companies, governments and environmental organizations all flew from around the world to convene in the Shangri-La hotel. Jakarta was selected as the meeting location because Indonesia is largely ground-zero for forest destruction driven by demand for palm oil and pulp & paper.
The aim of the Tropical Forest Alliance is worth applauding. Three years ago they established a commitment to reach zero deforestation by 2020. However, as with most things, the difficulty is in forging a path that can achieve that goal.
Gathering in Indonesia for this meeting was a great first step to solving this issue. Unfortunately it was way too easy for everyone to forget where they were. The crystal chandeliers, overstuffed chairs and incredible array of delicious food at the Shangri-La hotel could have been in any city, anywhere in the world. It is my bet that many of the representatives from these US companies rarely left the confines of the hotel and certainly were far from seeing the true cost of their supply chains in Indonesia’s forests.
Greenpeace is committed to making sure US companies cannot remain blinded or ignore the role they are playing in shaping the future of Indonesia’s and the world’s forests.
Greenpeace recently asked over 130 consumer companies if they can guarantee that there is no forest destruction in their supply chain. Unfortunately for the vast majority of them, the answer is no. This is because the TFA, like many companies, is relying on the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) to stop palm oil companies from destroying the rainforest. Unfortunately, as we have shown (here and here) the RSPO is not able to live up to this job.
The truth is that forest destruction and development on high carbon peatlands are allowed under the RSPO certification scheme. So Greenpeace will not sit idly by as large users of palm oil like Proctor & Gamble, Mars, Kraft and Colgate-Palmolive (among many others) try to absolve themselves of responsibility for deforestation, and its devastating impacts on endangered wildlife, by pointing to their commitment to buy RSPO certified palm oil.
Instead we are demanding these US companies:
Step one: Find out where their palm oil comes from.
At the moment many companies buy untraceable palm oil from big international traders, like Wilmar International and IOI. Dirty palm oil from forest destruction is sourced by these traders to the global market. Any commitment to reach ‘zero deforestation’ is hollow if the company does not even know where the palm oil they buy is coming from.
An example of this is Duta Palma: this notorious palm oil producer with a track record of forest fires and forest destruction was finally ejected from the RSPO following intense campaigning. Question now is: how can consumer companies guarantee that Duta Palma palm oil is not ending up in our favorite brands?
Step two: consumer companies need to stop buying from destruction, and start buying from progressive producers that are committed to change.
A small group of progressive producers, together with social and environmental NGOs have come together to draw a vision of what real responsible palm oil should look like: protection of forests, peat lands, respecting the rights of local communities. This is the type of action we need to give consumer companies a clear path to promoting zero deforestation.