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Unilever approaches key sustainable palm oil “staging post”
Unilever has this morning announced a new goal of ensuring all of its palm oil is sourced from known and traceable sources by the end of next year, marking an important “staging post” towards its target of only sourcing sustainable certified palm oil by the end of the decade.
The company – which is one of the world’s largest users of palm oil, purchasing around 1.5 million tonnes of palm oil each year and accounting for about three per cent of global demand – is one of the founder members of the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) and has been working since 2004 to shift towards greater use of sustainable certified palm oil.
Marc Engel, chief procurement officer at the company, said it was now on track to complete the first phase of the transition by ensuring all the palm oil it uses is traceable by the end of 2014.
“Market transformation can only happen if everyone involved takes responsibility and is held accountable for driving a sustainability agenda,” he said in a statement. “Our progress has been made possible by the commitment and efforts of a number of our strategic suppliers. We will continue to engage with our suppliers, NGOs, governments, RSPO, end users and other industry stakeholders to develop collaborative solutions to halt deforestation, protect peat land, and to drive positive economic and social impact for people and local communities.”
A spokesman for the company said that the ability to trace the origins of its palm oil to specific supplier or plantation was a crucial “staging post” towards ensuring all the palm oil the company uses is certified as sustainable and as such not linked to deforestation in countries such as Indonesia and Malaysia.
“We are working very close with our suppliers to get the palm oil certified by 2020, but the intermediate part is to know where it has come from,” he said.
Richard Holland, director of WWF’s Market Transformation Initiative, hailed the move as a “very promising step on the continuing journey towards real market transformation to sustainable palm oil”.
“We will continue to work with Unilever and others through the RSPO to encourage further certification by growers and buying of certified palm oil by manufacturers and retailers,” he added. “WWF also encourages leading companies in the sector to set the industry benchmarks on important issues like traceability, protection of peat lands, significant GHG reductions and no deforestation. We urge other companies along the palm oil value chain to follow the lead shown by Unilever.”
The market for sustainable certified palm oil is expanding fast with a host of high-profile retailers pledging to shift towards palm oil sourced from plantations that agree to meet independently assessed environmental standards.
The UK’s Department of Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs announced yesterday that the proportion of sustainable certified palm oil imported to the UK has more than doubled since 2009, to between 52 per cent and 60 per cent.