According to recent market reports, demand for palm oil is 'skyrocketing worldwide,' with global demand estimated at 74.6 million tons in 2019 and expected to grow. It is used in packaging and in so much of our snack foods, cookies, crackers, chocolate products, instant noodles, cereals, and doughnuts, and the list goes on. Palm oil is used in a staggering 50% of consumer products. Yet, unethical exploitation is destroying rainforests and harming the planet. Asia Pacific countries such as Malaysia and Indonesia are the top producers contributing 80% to the global market.
WWF’s 2021 Palm Oil Buyers Scorecard published last month found that some of the world’s most influential brands are still failing to tackle the deforestation and damage to critical natural habitats caused by unsustainable palm oil production.
The sixth edition of the scorecard, the most far-reaching to date, examined 227 major retailers, consumer goods manufacturers and hospitality companies across the globe on their commitments and actions to create a sustainable palm oil industry. So, how did they fair?
John Lewis Partnership was top of the class in the UK, ‘leading the way’ on sustainable palm oil. The Co-operative Group UK, Unilever, Tesco and Saputo Dairy UK are described as ‘well on the path to sustainable sourcing.
The John Lewis Partnership/Waitrose show what can be done with effort. Alongside global brands, Arla Foods and The Estée Lauder Companies, John Lewis Partnership jumped from the middle to the top category in just a year, with John Lewis achieving fourth place globally.
In contrast, 11 UK companies failed to provide information on their palm oil usage and sustainability efforts, including healthcare giant Glaxo SmithKline and the Wetherspoons pub chain. Globally a third of companies failed to respond.
Katie White, Executive Director of Advocacy and Campaigns at WWF, said on presenting their report:
“A few companies have made impressive strides to eliminate unsustainable palm oil from their businesses to protect nature. Moreover, they have shown their competitors that it can be done.
“However, despite many global brands making long-standing commitments to eliminate the destruction of nature from their palm oil supply chains by 2020, the vast majority are still not acting on their promises. We won’t forget the companies that don’t step up - with so much at stake, there is no room for inaction or half measures.”
All in all, much more progress is needed to achieve environmental sustainability in palm oil usage. WWF’s new scorecard highlights significant room for progress for companies from all parts of the palm oil industry and in all countries.
This year, UK companies scored an average of just 14.4 out of 24, slightly higher than the international average of 13.2 points and on par with the European average of 14.1. However, so much more could be done. But it also requires greater transparency on sourcing.
Most scorecard companies have failed to establish robust policies and mechanisms to ensure that the palm oil they source is free of deforestation, conversion, and human rights abuse. While seven out of 10 have committed to addressing deforestation in their palm oil supply chains, and nine out of 10 to protecting human rights, only a handful apply these commitments to all ecosystems and the people most at risk of unsustainable palm oil production.
The scorecard also finds that half of the respondent companies are still not sourcing 100% RSPO (Round Table for Sustainable Palm Oil) certified sustainable palm oil. In addition, only a quarter have systems in place to check if their suppliers are meeting their sustainability commitments.
WWF’s palm oil scorecard also examines actions companies are taking beyond their own supply chains to support a sustainable palm oil industry. Encouragingly, just over half of companies are actively participating in sustainability platforms, including the Palm Oil Transparency Coalition (POTC) or the GCF Forest Positive Coalition, to drive industry-wide transformation. In addition, four out of ten companies are investing in projects to support real change on the ground in palm oil-producing landscapes, such as building the capacity of smallholders and forest protection.
After a decade of inaction by many, this is a positive shift that all companies should adopt as quickly as possible.