Nestlé stars in smear campaign over Indonesian palm oil: Greenpeace links food manufacturer with mass deforestation
Nestlé is fighting a PR battle with Greenpeace over claims that it is continuing to source palm oil from Sinar Mas, the Indonesian company accused of illegal deforestation and peatland clearance.
Greenpeace alleges that plantation expansion by Sinar Mas is endangering orang-utans by encroaching on their habitat. Its latest campaign features a video of an office worker inadvertently biting into an orang-utan finger instead of a Kit Kat chocolate bar.
Ian Duff, a campaigner for the environmental NGO, said: "this is something we've brought up with Nestlé time and time again and they've failed to act."
In late 2009, Greenpeace released a report alleging that Sinar Mas was clearing rainforest and peatland without permits from the government. Unilever and Kraft both suspended contracts with Sinar Mas subsidiaries as a result. At the time, Nestlé said it would make its own investigations into the matter.
Nestlé was quick to respond to the latest campaign, saying it had found a new supplier. However, it admitted that it still sources palm oil from Sinar Mas through its supplier Cargill and that a full review of its supply chain would take until the end of April 2010.
Nestlé has committed to using only "certified sustainable palm oil" by 2015. Like fellow food manufacturers Unilever and Kraft, it is a member of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), a consortium of buyers and producers promoting sustainably produced palm oil.
RSPO membership entails certain obligations but most are directed at producers, and buyers claim the current supply of sustainable palm oil is not sufficient. Critics of the organisation say its demands are too vague and it lacks teeth. Ian Duff says the conditions of membership are "not strong enough and not policed".
"Unilever has gone beyond its commitments to the RSPO by cancelling contracts. That's what other companies need to do."
Palm oil is widely used in the production of food and cosmetics. Demand has expanded considerably in the last two decades and Greenpeace expects it to double by 2030. If the biofuel industry takes off, this could drive demand even higher.
Over the past 60 years Indonesia has lost an area of rainforest three times the size of the UK. The United Nations Environment Programme says palm oil production is the main cause of deforestation, which is occurring at a rate of about 2% per year. Indonesia is also the world's third largest carbon emitter, largely as a result of deforestation and the burning of peatlands.