The Sustainable Palm Oil Manifesto boasts an “increased commitment” to sustainable production across the supply chain, with Cargill and five of the largest oil palm growers in the world, including Sime Darby Plantation, signing up to it.
It carries a “no deforestation” pledge and aims to build upon the signatories’ existing commitments to the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO).
However, Greenpeace and The Rainforest Action Network claim it is “greenwashing” because deforestation will continue to be allowed while members of the manifesto determine what forests can be developed or protected, under the High Carbon Stock (HCS) Approach.
HCS, which Greenpeace helped develop, combines carbon and biodiversity conservation, as well as community rights and livelihoods to determine what land can and cannot be developed.
The signatories, which include IOI Corporation Berhad, Kuala Lumpur Kepong Berhad, Musim Mas Group, and Asian Agri, will fund research to define what constitutes an HCS forest and establish appropriate thresholds that will not “stifle the economic development of nations, while ensuring that environmental concerns are addressed”.
The manifesto does not require them to immediately halt the clearance of potential HCS forests and peatlands, according to campaigners.
Bustar Maitar, head of the Indonesia forest campaign, Greenpeace International, said: “Further research to strengthen the HCS Approach is welcome, but allowing clearance in the name of ‘sustainability’ is nothing less than greenwashing.
“To show they are serious about addressing deforestation, the group must immediately stop clearing potential HCS forests.”
Greenpeace is calling on companies such as Unilever, Nestle and P&G, which have made sustainable palm oil pledges, “to use their power in the market to tell suppliers to stop the bulldozers and demand forest protection.”
Cargill told FoodNavigator.com that it is testing and implementing the HCS process and “working with the Manifesto companies in supporting additional research in this area.
“We encourage the use of sound science and industry collaboration to develop and advance efforts at preventing deforestation in the palm industry and improve sustainability.”
Unilever said the manifesto “shows the industry is working towards one High Carbon Stock definition, which drives change that is good for forests, orangutans and for local communities.
“This isn’t easy and we recognise that transforming the industry will require organisations to provide further assurance that commitments can be put into practice. We understand that NGOs like Greenpeace are asking for this clarity from the growers.
“Constructive partnerships are needed to drive transformational change in the Palm Oil Industry.”
Nestlé said: “Concerted efforts are needed to tackle the serious problems of deforestation. We will be carefully evaluating uptake and impact of the Manifesto and we hope that this initiative will lead to more aligned actions along the supply chain from grower to consumer.”