By any measure, 2014 was a turning point in the international movement to reform the notoriously destructive palm oil industry. Many of the sector’s biggest players announced groundbreaking global responsible palm oil policies that go above and beyond the inadequate standards of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) and pledge to eliminate deforestation, human rights abuses and climate pollution from their palm oil supply chains.
While major work remains to truly implement these newly achieved commitments into real change on the ground, there also remain major corporate laggards who have so far failed to raise their standards to the new global benchmark for responsible palm oil production set by their peers. Chief among these holdouts is PepsiCo, a company that uses so much palm oil annually it could fill soda cans full of the stuff stretching around the earth at the equator four times over.
You may have seen this past week that PepsiCo, parent company to popular brands including Doritos and Quaker Oats, issued a strongly worded, defiant public response to a hilarious and creative ad produced by the group SumOfUs that spoofs PepsiCo’s own Crash the Superbowl ad campaign and has quickly gone viral on social media.
PepsiCo’s statement calls efforts to cut controversial palm oil from its products a "public relations stunt, focused on fiction rather than facts." The company claims that its palm oil policies are 'effective' and went so far as to state: "It is no surprise that SumofUs' continual mischaracterizations of our palm oil commitments are patently false and run counter to the positive reception our policies have received from expert organizations in this arena."
Rainforest Action Network (RAN) would would like to take this opportunity to share for the record a joint communication being made public for the first time now that was delivered privately to PepsiCo more than five months ago from multiple leading expert organizations in the palm oil arena. The communication outlines in specific detail the ways in which PepsiCo's current palm oil commitments fall short and offers recommendations for addressing the gaps it identifies.
While many of its major snack food brand peers have adopted leading commitments to verifiably cut the ties between the palm oil in their products and deforestation, human rights abuses and climate pollution, PepsiCo has continued to refuse to take the steps necessary to ensure its customers that the palm oil it uses is truly free of these egregious abuses.
To summarize, experts continue to call on PepsiCo to strengthen its current palm oil commitment in the following ways:
Require its suppliers to uphold human rights, workers’ rights and resolve conflicts in accordance with international human and labor rights laws and norms; not develop on peatlands regardless of depth; prohibit burning; and include support for smallholders across all operations in its global supply chain;
Commit to tracing the palm oil it sources to the plantations where the oil palm fruit is grown (it currently only commits to tracing to the mill) and undertake independent verification of its supply chain to ensure it is not purchasing from companies trafficking conflict palm oil.
Immediately assess the risks in its Indonesian and Malaysian supply chains given that these are the regions with the highest rates of deforestation, conflict, and labor rights violations caused by Conflict Palm Oil.
Clearly outline an implementation plan that includes time-bound performance goals and reporting, auditing and third-party verification measures.
RAN first alerted PepsiCo to the serious problems in its palm oil supply chain over a year ago and offered to work with the company to find solutions and draft a comprehensive, time bound responsible palm oil policy that does not rely on outsourcing the company’s stated values to the spotty track record of the RSPO. This offer still stands.