Palm oil issue back in the news

In 2004 WWF and Unilever, along with a larger group of palm oil producers, industry associations, and ngos set up the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil to move the producing industry towards more sustainable practices, including the protection of orangutan habitat in palm oil producing countries. A recent evaluation by WWF indicates that progress has been very slow.

Even though adequate Certified Sustainable Palm Oil is available, companies that use palm oil in their products are not buying the CSPO product in sufficient quantities. Many producers that committed to the Roundtable principles for sustainable palm oil are not meeting the full standard or have effectively dropped out of the program. Even the eternally optimistic WWF states that “the majority [of palm oil producers] need to move much faster if the RSPO is to reach its goal of transforming the palm oil sector toward 100% sustainability”. Other environmental groups are much more critical of the RSPO, with some labeling it as “greenwash”.

Palm oil is one of the most widely used vegetable oils in the world, being a raw material for all kinds of foods including baked goods and margarines, cosmetics, and biofuels. The certification process established by the RSPO allows users of certified sustainable palm oil to use a trademarked logo on their products but during our regular work GallonDaily has not found the logo on any products in Canadian retailers. Trademarking of the logo is apparently not yet complete in Canada, suggesting that interest among Canadian brandowners is very low. The only company that RSPO reports as having committed to use only certified sustainable palm oil in Canada is The Body Shop. Starbucks has announced that all of its products worldwide will use only certified sustainable palm oil by 2015.

The palm oil issue is one that resonates with consumers – it is easy to understand the concept of producers cutting down tropical forests in order to plant oil palms – and the orangutan is a very attractive symbol for the misdeeds of palm oil producers.

With at least a partial solution already in place it is not unreasonable to expect that campaigners will soon target Canadian brandowners who are using palm oil that is not sustainably produced.

The WWF Global 2013 assessment of palm oil producers is available at http://wwf.panda.org/what_we_do/footprint/agriculture/palm_oil/solutions/responsible_purchasing/wwf_assessment_of_rspo_member_palm_oil_producers_2013/

The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil and its shopping guide (not very relevant to Canada) can be found at http://www.rspo.org/

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