This year - 2013 - has been the year of the Arctic, no question. But there's an amazing development elsewhere that everyone who's part of Greenpeace has been instrumental in achieving, even if you didn’t realise it.
It involves the world’s largest palm oil trader and an incredible new commitment that could mean the difference between saving or wiping out the last Sumatran tigers.
Making palm oil shouldn’t mean destroying Indonesia’s rainforests. But dangerous and greedy companies are trashing them to grow oil palms. It’s pushing orangutans and tigers ever closer to extinction.
My colleagues have spent months investigating the palm oil industry. Everywhere they went - whether investigating oil palm grown illegally inside a national park, speaking to families trying to protect their livelihood, or working with charities that rescue animals from palm oil companies’ bulldozers - they came across the same name.
That name was Wilmar International.
You probably haven’t heard of Wilmar, but you’ve almost certainly bought something containing its palm oil. Wilmar is a commodities trader and 45% of the world’s palm oil passes through its hands - some coming from a number of very unsavoury companies.
Our evidence linked Wilmar and its customers to the destruction of tiger and orangutan habitat, human rights abuses and conflict with forest communities.
And throughout the autumn, we exposed how Wilmar was laundering this dirty palm oil and selling it to major brands, like Gillette, Ferrero, Cadbury, L’Oreal and Clearasil. Our campaigners in Indonesia protested at Wilmar’s offices and rolled out massive banners in freshly-cleared forest, showing Wilmar’s customers just what they were buying.
Then something interesting happened.
First Ferrero announced a detailed, ambitious plan to only buy forest-friendly palm oil. Then Mondelez (which makes Cadbury) and L’Oreal made an initial commitment to no deforestation (although they’re still working out the details).
And when its customers started moving, Wilmar had no choice but to follow suit.
On 5 December, Wilmar announced that it would stop clearing forests and stop buying oil from companies that it knew were engaged forest destruction. “We know from our customers and other stakeholders that there is a strong and rapidly growing demand for traceable, deforestation-free palm oil,” said Wilmar’s CEO, Kuok Khoon Hong as he launched their new ‘no deforestation’ policy, “and we intend to meet it.”
Even though you won’t have sent an email to Cadbury or L’Oreal about their palm use, being part of Greenpeace meant that you didn’t need to. Just the possibility that you and millions of others around the world might take action was enough to persuade these companies to act now.
That’s the kind of power you hold.