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Procter & Gamble cleans up palm oil act after weeks of protests

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Procter & Gamble have committed to a zero deforestation policy in the wake of fierce criticism. Creative Commons: Aulia Erlangga/CIFOR, 2013

After weeks of intense pressure, Procter and Gamble (P&G) has committed to a No Deforestation policy, aimed at limiting the environmental impacts of its products and cleaning its supply chains of bad palm oil.

The move will see the company provide full traceability for all the palm oil and derivatives it uses in its products.

Implemented right it will help to preserve some of the world’s most important remaining carbon sinks and reduce the rampant slash and burn techniques used to clear land for palm oil plantations in the world’s tropics.

The measure announced by P&G goes beyond the existing criteria of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) and promises to remove all deforestation from the company’s palm oil supply chains by 2020.

Current criteria requires suppliers to guarantee there will be no conversion of peatland, that rights of local communities will be respected and that high carbon and high conservation value areas will be protected.

P&G’s announcement has been welcomed by Greenpeace. Areeba Hamid, the group’s forest campaigner said:

Hundreds of thousands of people across the planet have called on P&G to get rid of palm oil that is leaving tigers and orangutans homeless. Their commitment today is another step towards responsible supply chains and ending deforestation in the world’s rainforests.

Deforestation is responsible for around 20% of global man-made emissions – more than the world’s entire transport sector. Not only does it destroy some of the world’s most important carbon sinks but slash and burn techniques used to clear forests release large quantities of carbon dioxide back into the atmosphere.

Yet still every year, the world looses between 12 and 15 million hectares of forest – the equivalent of 36 football fields per minute. Palm oil demand has become a major cause of this deforestation.

During weeks of campaigning, over 400,000 people emailed the P&G CEO calling on the company to change their ways and limit deforestation, while thousands more called the company’s offices around the world with the same demand.

There were also dozens of protests at the company’s offices, advertising spoofs and more.

But while today’s announcement was seen a victory for those who fought for the move, Greenpeace IS now calling on the company to go further.

Hamid added:

The policy is not perfect. It leaves suppliers six more years to clear forests. With global warming and rapid biodiversity loss, we urge P&G to take action against suppliers such as Musim Mas and KLK that have been identified to be clearing forests and peatlands.

P&G’s announcement follows a number of other high-profile traders and consumers, including L’Oreal, Colgate-Palmolive, Wilmar and GAR, who have all committed to No Deforestation in their supply chains.

Deforestation campaigners received another similar announcement last week by agribusiness giant Cargill more cautiously.

Last Tuesday the company released a letter it sent to the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), laying out its intension to establish policies to eliminate deforestation, peatlands conversion and social conflict from its supply chains.

The announcement follows years of intense criticism from environmental groups and comes in response to a Greenpeace report which linked the palm oil it sold to Procter & Gamble to deforestation in Southeast Asia.

While the goals were welcomed by campaigners, both Greenpeace and the Rainforest Action Network (RAN), are warning that until the pledge is backed by a time-bound policy, it is nothing but a weak gesture.

RAN Ginger Cassady said:

For a company that presents itself as an agribusiness leader committed to innovation and agility, it needs to do a lot more than express an intent to do something. A statement of intent is not the same as a binding time-bound policy. To become a truly responsible palm oil supplier, Cargill must verifiably eliminate deforestation, peatland destruction, land grabbing and human and labour rights violations from its global operations.

If Cargill were to establish a strong policy to back-up its initial gesture though, RAN says it could have ripple effects throughout the palm oil sector.

Video to share: Protect Paradise – an animation about palm oil

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