Confectionery industry shirking palm oil responsibilities with RSPO: Greenpeace

By Oliver Nieburg

- Last updated on GMT

Industry hiding behind the RSPO, which is falling short of protecting forests, says Greenpeace. Photo Credit:Ulet Ifansasti
Industry hiding behind the RSPO, which is falling short of protecting forests, says Greenpeace. Photo Credit:Ulet Ifansasti

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Many confectioners are sidestepping responsibilities on sustainable palm oil by only ensuring products meet ‘inadequate’ RSPO standards, according to Greenpeace.

The campaign group argues that Roundtable for Sustainable Palm oil (RSPO) standards fall short of protecting rainforests and reducing greenhouse gases. Greenpeace has written to major industry players such as Mondelez, Mars and Ferrero encouraging them to go beyond RSPO standards and to procure from ‘truly sustainable’ sources.

Some have agreed to go beyond RSPO standards, while others contend that the RSPO standards are adequate.

‘Primary forests’

Greenpeace’s issue with RSPO certified palm oil is largely semantic. It says the RSPO cannot guarantee its palm oil is sourced from deforestation because the RSPO only prohibits deforestation of “primary forests”.

The term “primary forest”​ is defined by the Indonesian government and depends on factors such as the age of the forest and thickness of the foliage.

Greenpeace says there are very few primary forests in Indonesia, meaning many of the country’s forests face destruction, which threatens specie​s such as the Sumatran tiger with extinction.

The United Nations definition of forests does not go as far as demarking between primary and secondary types, it adds.

species under threat Didit Majalolo - Greenpeace
Species under threat from secondary forest destuction to make way for palm plantations, says Greenpeace. Photo Credit: Didit Majalolo

Peat burns

The RSPO criterion for certified palm contains no ban on burning peat, which is used to clear the land for plantations and releases carbon emissions.

Areeba Hamid, senior campaigner for Greenpeace told ConfectioneryNews: “This is seen as enough by the industry. But Greenpeace’s stance is that RSPO hasn’t been able to guarantee that the palm oil is not coming from say forest fires. This shouldn’t be the standard industry should follow.”

Greenpeace campaign at Nestle UK HQ - Greenpeace - Jiri Rezac
Greenpeace previously campaigned Nestlé on plam oil before the food giant made fresh pledges. Photo Credit: Jiri Rezac

Nestlé and Ferrero: Examples to follow

Ferrero​ recently committed to achieving 100% traceable segregated, RSPO-certified palm oil by the end of 2014 and has pledged that its supplier will not clear high carbon stock forests or use fire to clear lands.“Very few companies go beyond the RSPO,”​ Hamid said. According to Greenpeace, Ferrero and Nestlé are two confectioners that have and are examples the industry can follow.

Nestlé has pledged not to be associated with deforestation and has a responsible sourcing policy in place. See HERE.

Mondelez and Mars

Mondelez International plans to publish an action plan in Q2 2014 that will detail steps to eliminate by 2020 palm oil supplies that are produced on illegally held land that does not destroy forests or peat land and respects human rights.

“Mondelez has taken the first step in the right direction, but the timeline of 2020 is unambitious,” ​said Hamid.

She said that companies should be able to trace their palm oil all the way back to the plantation.

Mars​ responded positively to Greenpeace’s letter and agreed that the RSPO standard was not enough. It has pledged to introduce a new policy on palm oil in 2014. The firm has already committed to sourcing 100% certified palm oil by 2015 and is currently half way there.

Hershey and United Biscuits

Hamid said: “Hershey's​ responded to us in the same RSPO language as most of the other companies. They continue to rely on the RSPO to sever the link between their chocolates and deforestation. But it’s clearly not enough and they need to move beyond the RSPO if they are serious about no deforestation.”

The Rainforest Action Network​ (RAN) is running a campaign to encourage Hershey to do more.

United Biscuits is already using 100% certified palm oil and has also told Greenpeace that the RSPO standards are enough.

palm oil
Palm oil is an edible vegetable oil derived from the fruits of palm trees, which grow in tropical countries such as Malaysia and Indonesia.

Which supplier?

Along with other NGOs, Greenpeace has launched the Palm Oil Innovation Group​ that looks at progressive producers. Recommended suppliers according to the group include New Britain Palm Oil, Agropalma, Daabon and NBPOL.

Wilmar International controls over 40% of the palm oil trade and is a major supplier to the confectionery industry. Mondelez International and Godrej are among its customers.

Greenpeace argues that Wilmar is “making consumers unwitting accomplices in the destruction of Indonesia’s forests, and pushing critically endangered species like the Sumatran tiger to the edge of extinction”.

A report​ earlier this year from the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) also accused Wilmar of trading illegally grown palm-oil in Indonesia.

Defending its policies, Wilmar told our sister site BakeryandSnacks​ in July that 60% of its palm plantations were RSPO-certified and it aimed for 100% by 2016. It also pledged to seize sourcing from illegal plantations mentioned by WWF.

Confectionery uses for palm oil

The biggest industry for palm oil is biofuel, but FMCG companies, including those in the cosmetics and confectionery industry are heavy users.

Palm oil serves multiple functions in confectionery. It is used as a confectionery fat designed to replace cocoa butter, typically for coatings and fillings.

According to trade body Chocolate, Biscuits & Confectionery of Europe​ (CAOBISCO), palm oil provides taste and texture, in particular crunchiness, to its members’ products and contributes to lowering trans fatty acids intake.

“No other oil sum up all these advantages. It is an essential ingredient for CAOBISCO products and it cannot be simply replaced,” ​the organization says on its site.

See HERE​ for an editorial on palm oil sourcing from our sister site FoodNavigator-Asia.

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