Days ahead of COP27, Unilever sets the model for forest positive landscape programs in the palm oil sector

RAN welcomes landscape-level action but says Unilever must put out the “carbon bombs” in its supply chain 

Days ahead of COP27, Unilever recently published its “Reimagining Landscapes” report which showcases its investments in landscape programs across key palm oil production areas in Malaysia and Indonesia and sets a model for other brands with “Forest Positive” commitments to follow. Rainforest Action Network (RAN) welcomes the report and Unilever’s USD 1.5 million investment in landscape programs in the Indonesian province of Aceh which have driven tangible impacts on the frontlines of palm oil expansion in the Leuser Ecosystem. 

But as COP27 gets underway and with more commitments sure to follow from the consumer goods giant, RAN calls for more action, as Unilever’s products are still tainted with Conflict Palm Oil grown illegally in the carbon-rich peat swamps of the Leuser Ecosystem. The Leuser Ecosystem is a 2.6 million hectare forest landscape on the Indonesian island of Sumatra and is the only place on the Earth where Sumatran rhinos, tigers, elephants, and orangutans coexist in the wild. 

Unilever’s connection to illegal palm oil grown within the protected Rawa Singkil Wildlife Reserve in the Leuser Ecosystem was recently exposed by RAN. Using evidence obtained through field investigations, satellite imagery analysis, and supply chain research, RAN’s recent investigation proves that palm oil produced in this protected nature reserve, in violation of corporate deforestation-free commitments, continues to make its way into the products sold by Procter & Gamble, Mondelēz, Nestlé, Unilever, PepsiCo, Colgate-Palmolive, Ferrero, Nissin Foods and other CGF members. 

Gemma Tillack, Forest Policy Director with Rainforest Action Network, said, “Unilever is failing to enforce its no deforestation commitment in one of the most critical landscapes on the planet. We are in a climate crisis and carbon bombs persist under its watch in the Leuser Ecosystem. Unilever must put out the carbon bombs in its supply chain as a matter of priority.

“Landscape programs are an important new tool that can be implemented by governments, the private sector, and communities to prevent deforestation, reduce emissions, and secure legal recognition of the rights for customary forests across the globe. They are not a silver bullet and must be implemented in addition to the effective enforcement of No Deforestation, No Peatland, and No Exploitation policies.

“Unilever’s current deforestation monitoring and response systems are not sufficient as they failed to prevent its sourcing of illegal palm from the Rawa Singkil Wildlife Reserve.”

RAN is calling on Unilever to expand the use of collaborative forest and peatland monitoring and response systems across Aceh so it can effectively enforce its policies throughout its supply chains all the way to the forest floor in the Leuser Ecosystem. RAN’s report also highlighted the need for long-term interventions and investments to protect and restore rainforests and peatlands across the world-renowned Leuser Ecosystem, including the Singkil-Bengkung region and the Rawa Singkil Wildlife Reserve. To date, investments have only been made by Unilever in two of the nine priority districts where the Leuser Ecosystem is located. Unilever has still not issued a public response to RAN’s most recent report.