Victory: Wilmar Announces Deforestation Free Policy, is Kellogg Next?

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Glenn Hurowitz, Managing Director at Climate Advisors, Marc Engel, Chief Procurement Officer of Unilever, Kuok Khoun Hong, CEO of Wilmar International, and Scott Poynton, Executive Director of TFT, getting ready to sign an industry-shifting agreement. 

For months now, through the Forest Heroes campaign, Michiganders have been demanding that Kellogg use their joint venture partnership with palm oil giant Wilmar to urge the company to improve its palm oil sourcing policies in order to reduce deforestation and habitat loss. Wilmar has apparently gotten the message. The massive palm oil trader today announced a new policy that has the potential to shift the entire industry.

“With a massive boost from the determined advocacy of Michigan communities, Wilmar has announced it will implement a comprehensive policy to protect forests,” said Deborah Lapidus, Campaigns Director of Catapult, which works with Forest Heroes to transform the palm oil industry. “And we are told a big reason why is that Kellogg’s picked up the phone and demanded action. Thank you, Kellogg’s, for listening to your Michigan neighbors.”

If you’ve been following along here you know that Wilmar’s announcement comes after months of input from Michigan communities and families to Kellogg’s, culminating in a rally and the delivery of thousands of petitions asking Kellogg’s to demand change from its corporate partner, Wilmar. Kellogg’s did just that, and today change happened.

Wilmar’s new policy also comes on the heels of a decade of advocacy from NGOs around the world to persuade the company to adopt stronger standards.. 

Why all the fuss about palm oil to begin with? Well if you’re new to the campaign and this blog, the palm oil industry is currently one of the most environmentally destructive on the planet. The rapid spread of palm oil plantations is responsible for rampant deforestation, endangered species habitat loss, and severe climate and local air pollution. Though there are now hopes that today’s announcement could begin to change that.

Wilmar’s new “No Deforestation, No Peat, No Exploitation Policy” would, if implemented, catalyze a wholesale change in how palm oil is produced, and where plantations are sited.

So what exactly does the policy entail? Basically, it calls for numerous provisions to change the way commodities are sourced:

  • No Deforestation: No more cutting down the rainforest for agricultural production.
  • No Exploitation: Protect the rights of workers and communities, including the right to Free, Prior, and Informed Consent.
  • Protects High Carbon Stock landscape: Including peatlands of any depth.
  • Protects High Conservation Value forests: No more clearing of forests that are habitat for endangered species, such as orangutans, Sumatran tigers, elephants, and rhinos.

Up until now, the largely unregulated -- and rapidly growing -- industry has laid waste to more than 30,000 square miles of tropical rainforests in Indonesia and Malaysia alone. Palm oil is a $50 billion a year commodity that winds up in roughly half of all consumer goods for sale, including snacks and sweets and soaps and detergents and countless other packaged goods. Over the past decade alone, palm oil imports to the U.S. have increased nearly fivefold. The incredible loss of richly biodiverse rainforests to clearcutting also threatens the 400 or so remaining Sumatran tigers, as well as orangutans, elephants, and rhinos. Not to mention the tens of millions of people who depend on the forests to survive. Then there’s the climate impact of stripping the world of some of its most important carbon sinks. Factor in forest loss, and Indonesia is the world’s third largest source of global warming pollution.

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And with a few strokes of the pen, change happens. 

When you think of palm oil, you should be thinking about the industry leader Wilmar. As TFT Executive Director Scott Poynton, said today, “Few companies dominate their sectors the way Wilmar dominates palm oil, controlling 45 percent of global trade. Today’s announcement by itself transforms the industry.”

(Read more and find a list of all the media coverage after the jump.) 

Some consumer-facing companies have already taken a stand, stating commitments to sourcing “deforestation-free” palm oil, but Wilmar’s new policy, according to Poynton, “dwarfs in ambition any previous joint commitment by the palm oil sector.”

The policy goes dramatically further than the standards set by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), the major industry-led body that “certifies” as sustainable palm oil that can come from previously clearcut virgin rainforests and carbon-rich peatlands. (You can read more about the RSPO’s absurdly poor standards in this earlier guest post by Glenn Hurowitz of Climate Advisers.)

If Wilmar’s policy is adhered to as written, then the world’s largest palm oil broker will stop trading commodities sourced from plantations built on top of clearcut or torched rainforests, nor from former peatlands, which serve as essential carbon sinks. 

The key now is implementation. A policy is all fine and good, but without transparent and verifiable implementation, it’s not worth more than the paper it’s printed on. “The ambition and scope of this commitment means it could mark start of a new era, but only if it’s more than words on paper,” said Hurowitz.

Added Poynton, “We commend Wilmar for their strong new policy, and now is the time for transparent and verifiable implementation.”

This announcement doesn’t mean that the work of the Forest Heroes campaign is done. Though Kellogg’s relationship with Wilmar has been the crux of the campaign, organizers and volunteers still want to make sure that the Kellogg company itself also makes a firm commitment to deforestation free ingredients.

Forest Heroes volunteers and organizers thank Wilmar for making this commitment. 

“This is a grrrrrrrreeeat win,” said Emma Hyde, a student at University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. “But it’s only Part One. For Part Two, we hope that Kellogg’s will very soon announce its own corporate policies eliminating deforestation and exploitation from its own supply chain. And it’s surreal to say so, but Wilmar gives them a good model to follow.”

Wilmar’s policy is available online here

Media stories about the announcement:

Bloomberg: Palm Oil Leader Wilmar Bans Deforestation in Sustainability Push

Thompson Reuters: Biggest palm oil trader agrees to greater rainforest protection

Financial Times: Wilmar bows to southeast Asia deforestation concerns on palm oil

Bloomberg Businessweek, Bruce Einhorn blog: Green Groups Get a Big Win in the Palm Oil Wars

ClimateWire: Palm oil giant agrees to halt forest destruction and that of its suppliers

Straits Times: Palm oil giant Wilmar launches steps to protect the environment

Mongabay: World's biggest palm oil company makes zero deforestation commitment

The Singapore Independent: Palm oil giant Wilmar caves to public pressure, commits to end forest destruction

Eco-Business: Wilmar commits to zero deforestation after year of intense pressure

Business Green: World's biggest palm oil company pledges to halt deforestation

Battle Creek Enquirer: Kellogg partner Wilmar pledges to be deforestation-free

WMEAC blog: BREAKING NEWS: Wilmar Commits to Anti-Deforestation Practices

TckTckTck: Largest palm oil trader issues zero deforestation policy 

Just-Food: Wilmar makes palm oil pledge

GreenBiz.com: Unilever, Wilmar International ink palm oil supply chain deal

Photo credits from announcement signing: Wilmar JBDP

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