The Palm Oil Revolution: Turning Promises Into Action

By Rainforest Action Network

2014 will be remembered for growing waves of grassroots activism calling for “system change” across a range of urgent environmental and social justice challenges. For the globalized food industry, activism to hold corporations accountable for theConflict Palm Oil in their products has created a watershed moment, and provoked a “re-think” of business-as-usual among the world’s largest agribusiness trading companies – Significantly, this includes Cargill, which has seen one after another of their major food manufacturing clients demand a radical re-structuring of global supply chains to provide them with traceable, responsible palm oil.

Communities on the frontlines in Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, Liberia and other rainforest regions, with help from allies campaigning across the globe, are working together to expose the links between the palm oil found in most products on grocery store shelves and forest destruction, climate pollution and human and labor rights abuses associated with palm oil expansion, landgrabbing and industrial scale plantations. Corporate executives now have to take notice as reports and new forest monitoring tools profile bad actors responsible for the loss of rainforests, the burning of peatlands, social conflict and the use of child labor in their supply chains.

The result have been staggering. Many of the world’s largest consumer brands and palm oil traders have adopted procurement policies that aim to eliminate deforestation, climate pollution and human rights abuses from supply chains. So what’s the catch? Are these commitments enough?

The good news is that the system-wide transformation that we, and our planet, need to achieve has begun. Key players that have the capacity to change the very nature of how this commodity is produced, traded and sold onto the global market have woken up to the need to change. Our challenge now lies in transforming company commitments into real change on the ground for the forests and communities that depend on them and bringing laggards in the sector along with us.

This change won’t happen overnight, and it won’t be easy. One thing is for sure though, we must draw lines in the sand.

  • We must counter the greenwash that is being rolled out by companies, including parties to the Sustainable Palm Oil Manifesto whose commitments on ending deforestation and social conflict fall short, and the many palm oil growers, traders and Snack Food 20 companies who have so far refused to strengthen their policies and practices. Recent commitments issued by palm oil traders and processors IOI Group, Kuala Lumpur Kepong (KLK), SimeDarby, Musim Mas Group, Bunge, Archer Daniels Midland Company (ADM) and AAK and consumer goods companies including PepsiCo all have critical gaps that must be addressed. Palm oil producers, including Bumitama Agri Ltd, FELDA, PT Astra Agro Lestari, PT Bakrie Sumatera Plantations Tbk, PT. BW Plantations and PT Indofood, lack adequate policies and lag behind growers in the Palm Oil Innovation Group who are demonstrating the new benchmark for responsible palm oil production.

  • We must stand with the community of Collingwood Bay in Papua New Guinea and stop companies like Kuala Lumpur Kepong (KLK) from threatening to destroy pristine rainforests and undermining the right of the Collingwood Bay people to say no to palm oil development on their lands

  • We must stop the encroachment of new palm oil plantations into High Conservation Value and High Carbon Stock forests, peatlands, protected areas and the last expanse of rainforests that are home to the Sumatran rhino, orangutan, elephant and tiger – the Leuser Ecosystem.

  • We must not simply leave it to companies to do ‘the right thing’. We’ll need to hold each and every one of them accountable until the job is done. This includes the world’s biggest palm oil traders that have adopted leading policies ~ Cargill, Wilmar and Golden-Agri Resources. These palm oil giants have a massive footprint on our planet and a major responsibility to help undo the damage caused by the palm oil sector. It’s too early to assess their implementation, much less say if they will succeed. These leading traders have taken the first step but now need to demonstrate to consumers that bulldozers have stopped destroying forests and peatlands and conflicts have been resolved in their global supply chains.

So while it is too early – and counterproductive – to claim ‘victory’ in our efforts to transform the palm oil sector, it is vital to recognize that the inspiring breakthroughs achieved in 2014 are a testament to the unrelenting work of local communities and NGOs supported by thousands of people and many international organizations over many years. These successes, almost unimaginable just a few years ago, provide a great example of how our movement can successfully take on seemingly insurmountable odds. We must now continue to build momentum as we drive the real change still needed on the ground.