WWF’s Palm Oil Scorecard Rewards Companies With Links to Child Labor and Forest Destruction

By Gemma Tillack

Palm oil is a subject of heated debate across the globe. Why? Put simply it is a controversial, yet nearly universal, commodity.

The expansion of industrial scale plantations has destroyed vast acres of tropical rainforests, burned critically important peatlands and has driven widespread conflict with communities that have lost their lands and livelihoods to palm oil companies. More recently, the deplorable conditions for the millions of workers on plantations spread across Malaysia and Indonesia has also been revealed, exposing the true human cost of this cheap oil. The impact of palm oil expansion has resulted in consumer backlash against global brands, such as Unilever, Nestle, PepsiCo and Kraft Heinz, that use palm oil in their products.

For over a decade, brands have been forced to respond to consumer outcries and hard-hitting campaigns from NGOs. Many have chosen to hide behind a so-called ‘sustainable palm oil’ label offered up by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). In 2014, global NGOs including Rainforest Action Network, Greenpeace, Union of Concerned Scientists and WWF began to publicly call on brands to do more than rely on certification from the RSPO, as its newly adopted standard continued to allow deforestation, the destruction of peatlands and the exploitation of local communities and workers by its members.

In response, several NGOs including WWF teamed up with industry leaders to create the Palm Oil Innovation Group––an initiative aimed at demonstrating that the link between palm oil, deforestation and exploitation could be broken.

Today, WWF issued an updated Palm Oil Scorecard, ranking 137 companies to show “what companies are, or are not, doing to prevent the negative social and environmental impacts of palm oil production.” Shockingly, the scorecard gives top scores of 9/9 to brands that have been exposed for their links to the destruction of forests and peatland and child labor.

WWF is misleading people across the globe with claims made in its scorecard that RSPO certified palm oil “ensures that the palm oil in companies products does not contribute to deforestation.” This couldn’t be further from the truth. RSPO members continue to destroy critically important forests and peatlands.

One of the most concerning scores is the 9/9 given to snack food giant PepsiCo. Just last week, PepsiCo issued a report confirming its ties to Conflict Palm Oil. This came on the heels of an independent report that found labor violations are rife in the operations of Indofood, PepsiCo’s joint venture partner and maker of its snack foods in Indonesia. PepsiCo is not ‘leading the way’ as stated by WWF. It has refused to take real supply chain actions in concert with its peers, and shouldn’t be rewarded for it.  

WWF’s scorecard simply can not be trusted to distinguish the leaders from the laggards. It is based on a flawed methodology that puts the interests of the failed RSPO system ahead of the livelihoods of workers and the millions of hectares of forests that remain under threat due to palm oil expansion.

Consumers want the truth. They need NGOs to demand what is necessary  for the planet, not what corporations are happy to deliver.

Demand more from WWF today.