Unilever, world’s largest palm oil buyer, shows leadership. Will Cargill?

By Margaret Ran

Today Unilever, the  consumer goods giant that purchases 4% of the world’s palm oil, has finally lived up to the commitments they made almost two years ago to remove rainforest destruction, human rights violations, and climate change chaos from their palm oil supply chain.

Under intense pressure from Greenpeace and allies, Unilever has canceled their 33 Million dollar a year palm oil contract with the dirty, destructive, and dangerous palm oil producer Sinar Mas. Sinar Mas is Indonesia’s largest palm oil producer and also owns Indonesia’s largest timber company Asia Pulp and Paper.

Pressured by Greenpeace in the UK and Europe back in 2008 to clean up their palm oil supply chain, Unilever took the positive steps of calling for an moratorium on palm expansion in Indonesia, taking a leadership role in the Round Table on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), and commissioning a third party audit of their oil palm suppliers world-wide.

The results of the audit have not been made public, but allies report that they uncovered bomb-proof evidence of palm oil producers in Indonesia illegally destroying biodiverse primary rainforests, draining and burning carbon-rich peat forests, using intimidation and violence to subdue local indigenous communities, and partaking in corruption to obtain illegal land permits to establish new oil palm plantations.

Photo: David Gilbert

Two days ago Greenpeace released a detailed dossier of illegalities and rainforest destruction committed by Sinar Mas in West Kalimantan on Indonesia’s province on the island of Borneo. In the statement released by Unilever they referred to the impact of Greepeace’s investigations:

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Here in the US Cargill is the largest importer of palm oil into the country, and is also the largest exporter of palm oil from Indonesia into the US. They trade palm oil from Indonesia and Malaysia with at least 20 companies. Although they are a private company and do not release contract information, RAN has strong reason to believe Cargill is the largest US buyer of palm oil from Sinar Mas.

The case is clear. Sinar Mas uses corruption and political muscle to destroy rainforests, forest peoples, and the climate. Europe’s largest importer of palm oil finally showed some leadership and canceled their contract with this nasty corporation. Will Cargill?

RAN calls for Cargill to follow Unilever’s lead and publicly cancel their contract with Sinar Mas.  Cargill is not living up to their own commitments to sustainable palm oil and is a major player in one of the most environmentally destructive industries on earth. Local communities reject their palm oil plantations in Indonesian and Papua New Guinea, and Cargill recently refused to meet with impacted community members at this year’s RSPO. It is time for Cargill to take a step in the right direction. Cargill, are you ready? Or will you continue to force forest peoples to become de facto bonded laborers, clear forests, and violate RSPO criteria? The choice is your.

David Gilbert is a Research Fellow at RAN. He has worked in the tropical forests of the Amazon and Indonesia, with a special focus on forest conservation and indigenous rights. He can be reached at davidgilbert@ran.org