Unilever holds off on GAR palm purchases

By Nathan Gray

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Carbon dioxide Sustainability

Unilever today said it has not resumed palm oil purchases from Golden Agri-Resources (GAR), after Nestle said it has resumed orders.

The palm oil giant GAR was slammed by Greenpeace in 2009 after it was alleged that it was involved in illegal forest clearing, with the result that brand owners ceased sourcing from the producer.

However, earlier this year Greenpeace welcomed a pledge towards forest conservation from GAR, which it said aimed at “creating long-term sustainable growth for GAR and the palm oil industry.”

The palm oil giant said that Swiss giant Nestle has since resumed buying the key food processing ingredient from GAR as the progress made by the producer on environment and sustainability now complies with the Swiss group’s sourcing guidelines.

However, Unilever said that its “position remains unchanged”​ in relation to GAR, despite its sustainability pledge, reports Dow Jones Newswires.

"We applaud (Golden Agri-Resource's) words of commitment to sustainable practices,"​ said a Unilever spokesperson, who added that GAR must follow up such intentions with ‘concrete actions’ before the food giant would reconsider its position.

Cancelled contract

In 2009, Unilever cancelled its €30m palm oil contract with GAR following Greenpeace’s report, Illegal forest clearance and Round Table on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) greenwash: Case studies of Sinar Mas​. The report alleged that GAR’s parent group Sinar Mas was engaged in widespread illegal deforestation and peatland clearance in the region.

According to the report, the company was “…engaging in practices which release vast amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and help Indonesia win the title of the world’s third largest greenhouse gas emitter, after China and the US​.”

Greenpeace alleged that Sinar Mas’s actions broke Indonesian law and highlighted how membership of the RSPO alone was not sufficient proof of a company’s environmental credentials.

At the time, Unilever spokesperson told FoodNavigator : “The Greenpeace claims aboutbreaking RSPO guidelines are too serious for us to ignore​.”

Marc Engel, the company’s chief procurement officer, added: “Unilever is committed to sustainable sourcing. Therefore, we have notified PT Smart ​[a subsidiary of GAR] that we have no choice but to suspend our future purchasing of palm oil.”

“If PT Smart is able to come forward with concrete proof that they are not involved in unacceptable environmental practices then we would certainly re-consider our position​.”

Pledge

Earlier this year GAR announced it had developed a Forest Conservation Policy (FCP) in collaboration with The Forest Trust (TFT)​to ensure that it has no deforestation footprint.

The policy aims to protect ‘High Carbon Storage’ forest and promotes non-development on ‘High Conservation Value’ forest areas and peat lands.

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