General Mills nears goal of 100% sustainably sourced palm oil

By Elizabeth Crawford

- Last updated on GMT

General Mills nears goal of 100% sustainably sourced palm oil

Related tags General mills Palm oil

Through partnerships with small farmers, non-governmental organizations and other industry stakeholders, General Mills reports it is making progress towards its goal of sustainably sourcing 100% of its top 10 ingredients by 2020.

“Through our focus on sustainable sourcing, we are tackling the areas of greatest environmental impact on our supply chain,”​ and ensuring suppliers respect human rights and animal welfare, the firm says in its annual Global Responsibility Report published April 7.

The ten ingredients, including vanilla, cocoa, palm oil, sugarcane, oats, U.S. wheat, U.S. sugar beets, dry milled U.S. corn, fluid dairy milk and fiber packaging, represent 50% of General Mills’ total raw material purchases and can have a significant impact on the environment and workers’ rights, according to the report.

So far, the firm is closest to achieving its goal for fiber packaging and palm oil, the report notes. The firm already sources 99% of its fiber packaging sustainably, although this is less notable than its progress in sourcing palm oil because the baseline for sustainably sourced fiber packaging was 99%.

Palm oil, on the other hand, had farther to climb, but General Mills says in fiscal 2014 it sourced 89% sustainably and will hit 100% in 2015 – a truncated deadline from the other ingredients.

Since declaring its intention to source palm oil sustainably in 2010, General Mills joined and only purchases palm oil from the Round Table for Sustainable Palm Oil, and it gives a preference to those members certified as sustainable.

The ultimate goal is to reduce deforestation related to clearing space to grow palm oil crops, the company adds.

Last year, General Mills upped its ante related to palm oil, of which it says it is “a relatively minor user,”​ by partnering with Proforest to add traceability to its palm oil supply. Within the first year, 69% of its palm oil supply is now traceable to the extraction mill and responsible sources, the firm said.

Sourcing vanilla directly to improve sustainability

Through its efforts to sustainably source vanilla, General Mills also is “boosting the incomes of small holder farmers and raising the living standard in their communities”​ by buying direct from farmers, it says.

It explains that by cutting out the middle men, local collectors who encourage early harvesting that lowers the quality of vanilla, farmers can be paid more for a higher quality crop that was not harvested prematurely.

General Mills also is helping farmers increase their income by establishing horticulture training programs in three communities in Madagascar that teach farmers how to cure their vanilla, which allows them to charge a higher price. These three communities could fulfill General Mills’ vanilla sourcing needs, positioning the company to sustainably source the ingredient 100% before 2020. In 2014, it sourced 45% of vanilla sustainably.

Sweet success

General Mills also is shining a light on child and forced labor violations with the production of cocoa and sugarcane as part of its push for sustainability.

General Mills is working with Bonsucro and AIM-PROGRESS to better identify where sugarcane in the U.S. originated so that it can better ensure suppliers comply with its code of conduct, which prohibits forced and child labor, mandates legal wages be paid on time and that overtime is paid if applicable.

Similar problems plague cocoa farming, although it is easier to trace cocoa supplies. General Mills is working to ensure this ingredient is sustainably supplied by teaming with Cargill and CARE to form village co-ops in 20 communities. The food giant will provide farm automation, training to increase yield and grants for education and health, all of which should reduce the need for children to work on family farms.

As with these ingredients, General Mills says it will tailor its efforts to sustainably source the other ingredients on its top 10 list based on the suppliers’ and categories’ needs.

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