Greenpeace occupies Unilever's 'dirty' palm oil supplier

By Sarah Parsons | Published: 27-Sep-2018

The environmental NGO claims that Unilever, the owner of Dove and Toni&Guy, is purchasing unethical oil from one of the world's largest oil palm plantation owners Wilmar International

Greenpeace has targeted Unilever’s suppliers for its latest protest against ‘dirty’ palm oil.

On Tuesday activists occupied a palm oil refinery belonging to Wilmar International – who supplies consumer goods giants Colgate, Mondelez, Nestlé and Unilever – in Sulawesi, Indonesia.

According to Greenpeace, the refinery processes palm oil from suppliers that are reportedly destroying rainforests in Kalimantan and Papua, Indonesia.

A team of 30 protesters from Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand, the UK, France and Australia occupied the factory for 12 hours and painted ‘dirty’ in five metre high letters on the refinery storage tanks.

“Wilmar has been promising to clean up its supply chain since 2013,” said Kiki Taufik, head of Greenpeace’s global Indonesia forests campaign.

“Yet it is still buying palm oil from forest destroyers. It is not Greenpeace’s responsibility to police their supply chain.

“Wilmar should only buy palm oil from producers it can prove are clean. That is what Wilmar CEO Kuok Khoon Hong promised almost five years ago.”

Why is palm oil controversial?

Palm oil is made from the fruit of palm trees and is used in everyday essentials, including beauty products such as shampoos, household cleaning products and food.

In order to source it for consumers’ make-up bags, large areas of tropical forests and other ecosystems have to be cleared to make way for plantations, meaning habitats – including those of orangutans – are being destroyed.

According to Greenpeace, Indonesia’s forests are disappearing at the rate of one football pitch every 25 seconds and Bornean orangutan numbers have more than halved between 1999 and 2015, equal to more than 25 a day.

Other impacts include soil erosion, air pollution, soil and water pollution and climate change.

© Rendra Hernawan / Greenpeace

© Rendra Hernawan / Greenpeace

Wilmar International said in a statement: “We are disappointed with the allegations made by Greenpeace that discredits the genuine efforts and progress made by Wilmar and the palm industry to promote the sustainable development of palm oil.”

It added: “Palm oil development brings jobs, education, health care and decent living conditions to millions of Indonesians.

“As key stakeholders, NGOs including Greenpeace need to be critical but also constructive and recognise the strides that the industry has taken.

“NGO campaigns often focus on attacking the biggest companies in the palm oil industry like Wilmar. However, this singular approach has proven to be counter-productive.

“NGOs that work genuinely towards further industry transformation also have the responsibility of bringing to the table pragmatic solutions that can be adopted by the entire industry.”

Wilmar has stated it will improve and accelerate its ‘No Deforestation, No Peat, No Exploitation’ policy, including a “more comprehensive global monitoring and verification system to track the environmental and social performance of Wilmar’s supply chain”.

Unilever's response

Cosmetics Business contacted Unilever and was referred to the following statement:

“Greenpeace rightfully addresses serious and systematic issues that we know are fundamentally broken in the palm oil supply chain. Unilever has been actively driving change in both our own operations and across the industry and we continue to work hard to address the challenges raised."

An activist scaling the refinery (© Dhemas Reviyanto / Greenpeace)

An activist scaling the refinery (© Dhemas Reviyanto / Greenpeace)

Commenting on its supply chain, Unilever said: “We fully agree with Greenpeace that transparency and traceability are crucial in achieving this and we have been long committed to lead the drive towards transparency.

“We now have visibility of 78% of the mills in our supply chain and in February 2018, Unilever became the first consumer goods company to publicly disclose the suppliers and mills we source from, both directly and indirectly.

“This marked a major milestone in driving greater visibility across the entire supply chain.

“The publication of our supplier and mill data is an important way to create further awareness of exactly where the issues are and unravel complex supplier links.

“We are continuously pushing others in the industry to follow suit and become more transparent in line with Greenpeace’s call for publication of concession maps.”

The transnational consumer goods group added: “We see sourcing certified sustainable palm oil as one of the ways to transform the industry.

“Even though we are on track to achieve our target of sourcing 100% physically certified palm oil by 2019, we also know that certification alone does not guarantee long term solutions.

“The sheer complexity of the global palm oil industry means a single approach is not suitable.”

Unilever has said it is working with independent mills and smallholder farmers in an effort to improve the transparency of its supply chain.

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