‘Certified sustainable palm oil is a con’


Consumers are being misled by a labelling scheme widely used by UK supermarkets to claim that the palm oil they use is 100% certified sustainable, says Greenpeace.


Analysis published today by Greenpeace International in its report Burning Down the House reveals that members of the industry body responsible for the ‘certified sustainable palm oil’ label have been at the centre of the 2019 Indonesia fires crisis. The crisis has seen an area five times the size of Greater London burn. [1] Members have also been linked to more than 1.2 million hectares of fires across Indonesia since 2015.


Richard George, Head of Forests at Greenpeace UK said:
“Consumers are being conned by ‘certified sustainable palm oil’, a phrase that’s bandied about by supermarkets and big brands attempting to distance themselves from deforestation.

“But the phrase is utterly meaningless because the body responsible for certifying palm oil is made up of some of the most destructive growers and producers in Indonesia. This is a henhouse insurance scheme run by foxes.”


Greenpeace used satellite data to analyse fire hot spots across Indonesia in 2019 and official government burn scar data from 2015-18 to identify which palm oil producer groups were most strongly linked to the country’s recurrent fires crises. [2] 


More than two-thirds of the 30 producer groups with the greatest exposure to fires are members of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) [3]. Roughly three-quarters of the fire hot spots in palm oil concessions in 2019 were on land controlled by RSPO members.


All major supermarkets in the UK use RSPO certified palm oil and rely on the RSPO to ensure the palm oil they use does not contribute to forest destruction. [4] 


The analysis also reveals that brands Unilever, Mondelez, Nestlé and Procter & Gamble are each linked to nearly 10,000 fire hotspots, and traders Wilmar, Cargill, Musim Mas, and Golden-Agri Resources all buy from producers linked to fires. Some are even buying from individual palm oil concessions under investigation for illegal fires. Together, the four traders supply more than three-quarters of global palm oil and all are RSPO members. [5]


Annisa Rahmawati, Senior Forest Campaigner at Greenpeace Indonesia said:
“Big brands and traders have created a facade of sustainability. But the reality is that they source from the very worst offenders across the board. The companies responsible for the fires and those who financially benefit from them should be held accountable.”


Global companies have made commitments to stop deforestation by 2020, but instead, forest loss has accelerated, and commodity-driven deforestation is the highest driver. [6]


Governments around the world have yet to take serious action against companies or goods linked to the fires.[7] Greenpeace is calling for companies to be held accountable.[8]


According to reports, more than 900,000 people in Indonesia have suffered acute respiratory infections due to the smoke haze from this year’s fires,[9] and nearly 10 million children are at risk of lifelong physical and cognitive damages due to air pollution.[10] Between 1 January to 22 October 2019, the fires released an estimated 465 megatonnes of CO2, which is close to the UK’s total annual greenhouse gas emissions.[11]


Richard George, continued: “If truly sustainable palm oil is ever to exist, globally we have to use less of it. Right now, more than half the palm oil coming into Europe is for so called biofuel. This has to stop. Brands and supermarkets must also commit to using far less palm oil and ensure any they do use comes from suppliers that are 100% deforestation-free.”




Download the full Burning Down the House report here: https://storage.googleapis.com/planet4-international-stateless/2019/11/5c8a9799-burning-down-the-house-greenpeace-indonesia-fires-briefing.pdf 

Photos and Videos can be accessed here: https://media.greenpeace.org/collection/27MZIFJ8YCLAC


Notes to editors:

[1] Official data released by the Indonesian government shows that between January and September 2019 forest fires have burned 857,756 hectares of peat and mineral soil – an area five times the size of Greater London: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-southeast-asia-haze/area-burned-in-2019-forest-fires-in-indonesia-exceeds-2018-official-idUSKBN1X00VU


[2] The producer groups linked to recurrent fires are defined as those linked to more than 250 fire hotspots in 2019 and/or those linked to the largest burned areas in 2015-2018. Under RSPO rules, a group should be a member at a level which covers all of its palm oil operations, therefore a group’s operations are here considered RSPO-linked where any part of the group is currently an RSPO member. Greenpeace analysis found that RSPO members are linked to the majority of fires in Indonesia today. 


[3] The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) was set up by the industry in 2004 and its stated aim is to “transform the markets by making sustainable palm oil the norm”. But only in November 2018 did it ban its members from destroying forests and it still hasn’t enforced this rule. RSPO members that produce palm oil have that palm oil ‘certified sustainable’ and brands buying RSPO palm oil can claim it is ‘certified sustainable’. https://rspo.org


[4] Aldi “100% certified palm oil” – https://www.aldi.co.uk/palm-oil

Tesco: “100% of the palm oil used in our UK Own Brand products is certified to the RSPO standard, and we are working to achieve RSPO certified palm oil for all our international businesses”: https://www.tescoplc.com/blog/our-position-on-sourcing-sustainable-palm-oil/

Sainsburys: “We are proud that 98% of our palm oil is certified sustainable”: https://www.about.sainsburys.co.uk/making-a-difference/our-values/our-stories/2017/leading-the-way-on-sustainable-palm-oil

Waitrose: “100% of the oil and palm-based ingredients in Waitrose & Parters products are certified sustainable to standards set by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO).”: https://www.waitrose.com/home/inspiration/about_waitrose/the_waitrose_way/palm_oil.html

Asda: “In 2018 Asda used 16,705 tonnes of sustainable palm oil from the RSPO scheme” AND “since 2015 all of the palm oil (that goes in things like margarine, soap and detergents) has been sustainably sourced”: https://www.asda.com/environment/farming-nature

Coop: “100% of the palm oil we use in Co-op branded products is covered by The Round Table for Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO)”: https://blog.coop.co.uk/2018/07/03/your-top-palm-oil-questions-answered/

Lidl: “100% of our products are certified to the RSPO Palm Oil standard”: https://www.abettertomorrow-lidl-ni.co.uk/sourcing/#healthier-products

Morrisons: “All palm oil and derivatives used as an ingredient in Morrisons branded products must be sourced through a Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) certified supply chain system”: https://www.morrisons-corporate.com/cr/policy/palm-oil/


[5] Traders’ market share is according to the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), based on 2015 data.


[6] According to the New York Declaration on Forests (NYDF) Progress Assessment. More details about companies’ failed deforestation commitments can also be found in Greenpeace USA’s recent briefing.


[7] For example, the Indonesian government has not seriously penalised palm oil companies responsible for the largest burned areas in recent years, according to Greenpeace Indonesia analysis. Furthermore, Singaporian and Malaysian governments have also not sanctioned companies, despite the fact that half of the palm oil producers responsible for Indonesia’s 2019 fire hotspots are based in these countries.


[8] For example, Greenpeace is calling on the European Union to pass new laws to ensure that all products, including palm oil, sold on the European market are free from deforestation and related human rights abuses.


[9] According to Indonesia’s National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB), as cited in Tempo.


[10] According to UNICEF, as cited in France24.


[11] Emissions from Indonesia’s forest fires are based on the Global Fire Emissions Database (GFED). UK annual emissions based on the most recent 2014 data from Climate Watch. Many fires are also within the last remaining habitat of critically endangered orangutans and other vulnerable species.


Contact: press.uk@greenepace.org.uk

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