For the love of Instant Noodles: Nissin Foods decade of ties to the destruction of the “Orangutan Capital of the World”

Deep within the last of the lowland rainforests of the Leuser Ecosystem in Indonesia is the “orangutan capital of the world.” This lush tropical forest is also home to Sumatran elephants, tigers, and rhinos as well as a vital source of water for local communities and a critically important global carbon store. Part of the Leuser Ecosystem is a World Heritage Area––an area of tropical rainforests that is recognized for its global significance. But this critical rainforest habitat is in danger, and some of Japan’s largest food manufacturing companies are to blame. One of the worst-performing culprits is Nissin Foods––the inventor of instant noodles––which has been called upon for nearly a decade to address its role in driving deforestation for palm oil in the Leuser Ecosystem

The Nissin Foods Group has a philosophy it calls “EARTH FOOD CREATOR” by which it expresses its desire to contribute to “societies and the earth by filling people’s hearts with joy and delight of “food”’. The company also states that ‘palm oil is an essential ingredient for instant noodles’. This is true, as palm oil is approximately 20% of the ingredients in a packet of instant noodles. Billions of people across the globe love and rely on instant noodles including CupNoodle but, unfortunately, this philosophy is not being fulfilled as its products are tied to the destruction of the Leuser Ecosystem. In the lead-up to Nissin Foods’ Annual General Meeting in Osaka in June, RAN will once again appeal to Mr. Koki Ando, President and CEO to fix its Conflict Palm Oil problem now, not in 2030! You can help by taking action today

Shareholders and investors in Nissin Foods should undertake due diligence on its published policies, and supply chain actions, that it is taking to address its role in deforestation and Human Rights violations. The cases outlined below demonstrate that it is clear that Nissin Foods must improve its policies and take action in 2023 to address its role in driving deforestation and human rights violations, including in the Leuser Ecosystem.

Nissin Foods is named one of the worst performers in the Keep Forests Standing scorecard. The company scored an F grade due to weaknesses in its published Nissin Group Sustainable Procurement Policy, and the implementation and verification systems it relies on to prevent further human rights violations and deforestation in its palm oil, pulp, soy, beef, and other forest-risk commodity supply chains. In 2022, Nissin Foods’ score improved when it disclosed its palm oil mill list and committed to undertake a forest footprint analysis––an assessment of its past, current and future impact on forests, natural ecosystems like carbon-rich peatlands, and Indigenous communities that are protecting their forests from the expansion of logging and agribusiness development. Since making this commitment, the company has not disclosed any details of its plan to undertake and publish its forest footprint, or if an assessment is underway. RAN is calling on Nissin Foods to improve its Group Sustainable Procurement Policy to align with the best practice No Deforestation, No Peatland and No Exploitation (NDPE) benchmark and to publish the forest footprint of its supply chains in Indonesia in 2023.

There are also major problems in its Commitment to Sustainable Palm Oil Procurement, which states it “supports the No Deforestation, No Peat, No Exploitation (NDPE) requirement” and  “zero deforestation”, including the protection of High Conservation Value areas and High Carbon Stock forests”. A major problem is how Nissin Foods is defining ‘sustainable’ in the goal it set in its environmental strategy called its “EARTH FOOD CHALLENGE 2030” and the deadlines it has set for achieving “a goal to raise the procurement rate for palm oil that is assessed to be sustainable to 100% for the entire group by FY2031, and for its instant noodle business in Japan to be assessed to be 100% sustainable by 2026. 

The first problem is that Nissin Foods appears to  ‘assess’ sustainable palm oil through a reliance on sourcing palm oil certified via the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil––not against ‘NDPE’ benchmarks which are verified by an independent third party. The second problem is that both of these target dates are too late as RAN has consistently shown that the destruction of rainforests continues in the supply chain linked to Nissin Foods in the Leuser Ecosystem now! The deadlines set by Nissin Foods are also much later than those set by its peers in the instant noodle business such as Nestlé & Unilever which have set a cut-off date of December 31, 2015, for deforestation in their palm oil supply chains––meaning they won’t source from palm oil producers that have destroyed rainforests since the end of 2015. Unilever has also committed to a deforestation-free supply chain in palm oil, paper and board, tea, soy, and cocoa by 2023. Nestlé aims to achieve 100 percent deforestation-free meat, palm oil, pulp and paper, soya, and sugar primary supply chain by 2022, and by 2025 for coffee and cocoa. 

Nissin Foods ties to illegally produced palm oil in the Carbon Bomb Scandal 

In 2022, RAN undertook another investigation to see if major brands had broken their ties to illegally produced palm oil growing in the Rawa Singkil Wildlife Reserve. Our investigation findings were published in the Carbon Bomb Scandals report which found that Nissin Foods was connected to illegally produced palm oil through a mill called PT. Bangun Sempurna Lestari and a palm oil producer called Ibu Nasti. 

The verification report published by Musim Mas confirmed that––Ibu Nasti––the producer selling palm oil fruits to the mill listed as a supplier in Nissin Foods supply chain had illegal plantations located within the protected reserve. PT. Bangun Sempurna Lestari claims to have suspended sourcing from Ibu Nasti. Nissin Foods remains at risk of sourcing from Ibu Nasti and other rogue palm oil producers with illegal plantations as the traceability systems in place at PT. Bangun Sempurna Lestari’s crude palm oil mill are not adequate. Verification reports published by major traders exporting palm oil to Japan confirm RAN’s findings that the traceability systems at the network of mills and brokers surrounding the Rawa Singkil Wildlife Reserve are not adequate to ensure that they are not sourcing illegal palm oil grown inside the reserve.

Habitat of Sumatran Elephants destroyed by controversial producers supplying mills in Nissin Foods supply chain

In December 2022, RAN published an investigation showing that a supplier to Nissin Foods was sourcing palm oil from the most controversial palm oil company in the Leuser Ecosystem called PT. Nia Yulided Bersaudara (PT. NYB). The supplying mill involved in this scandal is PT. Bumi Sama Gunda––a company listed as a supplier to Nissin Foods on its published palm oil supplier mill list for 2021. Nissin Foods’ indirect palm oil supplier PT. NYB had been repeatedly exposed for destroying rainforest in a critical corridor for a herd of 220 Sumatran elephants in the northeast of the Leuser Ecosystem. The company is responsible for the clearance of nearly 2,100 acres (about 850ha) of rainforests in violation of the Indonesian government’s moratorium on forest conversion for palm oil and the No Deforestation policies of major palm oil buyers. In 2022, over 90 acres (about 36ha) were cleared within PT NYB’s palm oil concession. To date, Nissin Foods has not listed this company on a public “No-Buy” list––meaning a company it will not source palm oil from due to its ongoing destruction of rainforests.

Two major suppliers of palm oil to Japan––and Fuji Oils––Golden Agri Resources and Musim Mas issued responses to the case which confirmed that the mill had been sourcing from the rogue palm oil company. This investigation demonstrates that Nissin Foods is failing to enforce its ‘zero deforestation’ requirements, is connected to the destruction of some of the last critical habitat for the Sumatran elephants, and does not have adequate monitoring and non-compliance systems in place to identify and respond to cases of deforestation. In 2023, Nissin Foods remains at risk of sourcing Conflict Palm Oil produced at the expense of the lowland rainforests inside the Leuser Ecosystem.  

Controversies around Nissin Foods’ connection to illegal palm oil production in the lead-up to the Tokyo 2020 Olympics

Nissin Foods’ connections to the destruction of the Leuser Ecosystem for palm oil plantations are not new. The company has been informed of its connections to bad actors destroying rainforests and peatlands located in this global biodiversity hotspot for nearly a decade. In 2019 in the lead-up to the Olympics, RAN published the results of an undercover investigation that showed that products manufactured by Nissin Foods in Japan, the U.S., and across the world may have been produced at the expense of the Leuser Ecosystem’s lowland rainforests and the protected wildlife reserves. The palm oil suppliers involved in this scandal were palm oil mills called PT. Global Sawit Semesta and PT. Samudera Sawith Nabati, a palm oil broker called CV Buana Indah, and major palm oil traders importing palm oil to Japan including Fuji Oil, Golden Agri Resources, and Musim Mas. RAN also published a video to educate consumers in Japan about the impact of Nissin’s Foods’ palm oil supply chain on this priceless ecosystem and to implore Nissin Foods to improve its policies and take action to stop driving the destruction of the orangutan capital of the world. 

Instead of responding to these new cases of its connection to the illegal destruction of rainforests and carbon-rich peatlands in the Leuser Ecosystem, Nissin Foods issued this statement. Nissin Foods claimed that RAN’s allegations that palm oil produced in violation of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games Sustainable Sourcing Code has been used in licensed products made by Nissin Foods products were incorrect and that the products related to the issues RAN raised regarding Nissin Foods using palm oil sourced from producers with illegal plantations in a protected wildlife reserve the Leuser Ecosystem were not Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games licensed products. But judging from the description on p.147 of “Sustainability Post-Games report” it seems that Nissin Foods supplied most of the instant noodles as non-licensed products for the Games. In its statement above, Nissin Foods claimed to have requested and implemented corrective actions, including the termination of sourcing from the mills and plantations involved in the illegal production of palm oil, in addition to monitoring suppliers in the sourcing region where RAN had documented deforestation. Nissin Foods also claimed to have ‘confirmed the corrective measures were being carried out but refused to name the suppliers that had been terminated or subject to corrective actions. 

In 2022, Nissin Foods published its palm oil supplying mill list which was welcomed by RAN as the disclosure of suppliers is a critical step in demonstrating the implementation of NDPE policies. 

In late 2022, RAN undertook another investigation to see if Nissin Foods’ past suppliers had adhered to corrective actions that were designed to stop sourcing palm oil from illegal plantations, and if the company had broken its ties to illegally produced palm oil growing in the Rawa Singkil Wildlife Reserve. Our investigation findings were published in the Carbon Bomb Scandals report which found that Nissin Foods’ connection to illegal palm oil growing illegally inside the protected reserve remained––but its connection to illegally produced palm oil was through another mill called PT. Bangun Sempurna Lestari and another non-compliant broker called Alpien and producer called Ibu Nasti. 

RAN report also found that both of the mills were thought by RAN to be previous suppliers to Nissin Foods, PT. Global Sawit Semesta and PT. Samudera Sawith Nabati and the palm oil broker called CV Buana Indah––the key actors involved in the 2019 scandal were still sourcing from producers with illegal palm oil plantations inside a protected wildlife reserve in the Leuser Ecosystem. RAN’s report––and the verification reports published by Golden Agri Resources and Musim Mas also confirmed that the commitments made to improve traceability systems had not been adequately implemented on the ground by the network of suppliers around the Rawa Singkil Wildlife Reserve and that suppliers of palm oil fruits––including Ibu Nasti––had illegal plantations located within the protected reserve.

This investigation is a further demonstration that Nissin Foods does not have adequate monitoring and non-compliance systems in place to stop its sourcing of illegally produced palm oil.

Nissin Foods Lack of Response to Calls to Action since 2015 

RAN and others have been calling on the CEO of Nissin Foods and its shareholders to take action at its Annual General Meetings, in Japan and at its facilities in the US, since 2015. There is no more time for delay. Deforestation linked to Nissin Foods is on the rise, not falling, in the nationally protected Rawa Singkil Wildlife Reserve in Indonesia’s globally important Leuser Ecosystem. The driver of this destruction is Conflict Palm Oil. 2023 must be a year of action for Nissin Foods. 

Join us in taking action on Nissin today!