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World's Largest Palm Oil Trader Ramps Up Zero-Deforestation Efforts

Deforestation on peatland for palm oil plantation in Borneo, Indonesia. glennhurowitz / Flickr / CC BY-ND 2.0

The world's largest palm oil trader released plans on Monday to increase its efforts to eliminate deforestation from its supply chain.

Wilmar International, which supplies 40 percent of the world's palm oil, has teamed up with the sustainability consultancy Aidenvironment Asia to develop a comprehensive mapping database to better monitor the company's palm oil supplier group.


More than 80 percent of Wilmar's palm oil comes from third-party suppliers. Greenpeace, which has long pressured the palm oil giant to monitor its suppliers across all of their operations, hailed the move as a "potential breakthrough."

"Wilmar supplies palm oil to most of the world's major food and cosmetics brands. So today's announcement is a potential breakthrough," said Kiki Taufik, Global Head of Indonesian Forests Campaign, Greenpeace Southeast Asia in a press release. "If Wilmar keeps its word, by the end of 2019 it will be using satellites to monitor all of its palm oil suppliers, making it almost impossible for them to get away with forest destruction. Greenpeace will be watching closely to make sure Wilmar delivers."

The production of the widely used vegetable oil—which is found in chocolate, baked goods, soaps, biofuel and much more—has cleared much of Malaysia's and Indonesia's tropical rainforests and is linked to wildlife habitat degradation, human rights violations and climate change.

The new plan commits Wilmar "to map its suppliers' entire landbank by the end of 2019, as well as concessions from which it does not yet source," according to Greenpeace. The database will also allow high-resolution satellite monitoring to check for deforestation or development on peat. Suppliers that are caught will be immediately suspended.

The new initiative adds weight to Wilmar's current No Deforestation, No Peat, No Exploitation (NDPE) policy.

"Companies in the palm oil supply chain will now gain better visibility into the plantation companies they source from in terms of their operational locations and especially their compliance with the NDPE policy," Eric Wakker, co-founder of Aidenvironment Asia, said in a joint press release with Wilmar. "It will also allow companies to act faster against suppliers found to be involved in deforestation and peatland development."

Greenpeace is urging other palm oil brands to make similar moves to clean up the industry.

"As the world wakes up to the climate and extinction crisis, inaction is not an option," Taufik said. "Wilmar has taken an important step and must now put its plan into action immediately. Stopping deforestation requires industry-wide action. Other traders and brands must now follow with credible plans to map and monitor all of their suppliers. Equally important is action to end exploitation and human rights abuses in the palm oil sector."

Last month, Greenpeace released a report that accused Oreo cookie maker Mondelēz International of sourcing palm oil from "rainforest destroyers." Mondelēz gets much of that supply from Wilmar International, the group said.

In the report, Greenpeace said that between 2015 and 2017, 22 of the company's palm oil suppliers destroyed more than 70,000 hectares of rainforest in Southeast Asia—an area bigger than the city of Chicago—of which 25,000 hectares was forested orangutan habitat.

Greenpeace's report came a day after Mondelēz announced it has excluded 12 upstream suppliers as a result of deforestation practices.

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