Cargill waits for RSPO while Sinar Mas destroys forests

posted by Margaret Ran

Last week Nestle joined the ranks of other major food conglomerates to cancel their palm oil contracts from Sinar Mas, Indonesia’s largest palm oil and wood pulp producer and notorious rainforest destroyer.

Responding to the movements against Sinar Mas, Cargill also made an announcement on Sinar Mas last week; unfortunately Cargill chose to delay action and pass the burden of responsibility to the Roundtable of Sustainable Palm Oil rather than live up to their own corporate responsibility statements and act immediately to remove Sinar Mas’ dirty and dangerous palm oil from their supply chain.

Kraft, Unilever, and Sainsbury’s have also ended their direct palm oil contracts with Sinar Mas yet Cargill continues to stand behind their longstanding relationship with Sinar Mas. As palm oil production destroys forests, endangers forest peoples, and threatens the global climate, Cargill has met calls from Rainforest Action Network to end their support of Sinar Mas with stonewalling, inaction, and silence. The company has refused to disclose the size of their palm oil contract with the Indonesian multinational, all the while maintaining that they are committed to transparency and sustainability.

The evidence out against Sinar Mas is known, but perhaps the palm oil Cargill buys from Sinar Mas and resells in Europe and the US is just too profitable, or Cargill does not truly care about Indonesia’s forests, or they are not concerned about the underlying sustainability of the palm oil industry. Whatever the reason, Cargill’s lack of action is unacceptable and violates their own commitments to sustainable production and environmental stewardship.

Sinar Mas has the world's largest landbank for palm oil production - much of it threatened rainforests

Kraft, Nestle, and Unilever are all Cargill customers, and until Cargill removes Sinar Mas palm oil from their supply chain, these companies will not be able to live up to their very public commitments to disassociate with Sinar Mas. Under significant pressure from this powerful group of companies, Cargill last week finally made an announcement regarding Sinar Mas:

“If the RSPO validates the allegations of improper land conversion or illegal planting in deep peat land as alleged in the Greenpeace report and Sinar Mas does not take corrective action, we will delist them.”

This public statement was long overdue, but falls far short of the actions of Cargill’s customers and peers. Rather than cancel with a dirty and dangerous supplier, Cargill has passed the burden of responsibility to a powerless, controversial, and politically compromised Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) – an initiative of palm oil producers, traders, buyers, and NGOs.

Unlike other companies that took unilateral action, Cargill is hoping to hide behind the decisions of the RSPO, who have up to this point been unable to hold their members accountable for unsustainable and destructive production practices.  And then the clause ‘Corrective Action’ – Sinar Mas has been destroying rainforests for at least 20 years, and their wood pulp arm, Asia Pulp and Paper, is such an egregious rainforest destroyer that almost all the major US outlets of paper and cardboard have canceled their contracts with Sinar Mas (Office Depot, Unisource, Target, etc). Unilever conducted an expensive audit of Sinar Mas’ impacts, a publicly available document of Sinar Mas’ destruction, and NGOs have released countless reports documenting Sinar Mas’ actions on the ground.

Are we to believe, as Cargill tells us, that the allegations against Sinar Mas are still unproven and that Sinar Mas can take corrective action to gain back Cargill’s and their customers’ trust?

The time is now for Cargill to face up to their responsibility as a major palm oil producer, trader, and supplier and eliminate Sinar Mas palm oil from their supply chain and chain of custody. Today. Without statements passing on responsibility to powerless trade groups, and without any if’s, but’s, or when’s.