New evidence links Unilever to burning of Borneo

New campaign targets one of the biggest companies on the planet

Press release - 21 April, 2008
Unilever, the company behind some of the world’s biggest brands, including Dove, is contributing to the destruction of the last remaining habitats of the orang-utan and other wildlife, and massively speeding up climate change, according to environmental group Greenpeace.

Simultaneous "direct actions" are taking place across Europe, and a damning new report has been released to highlight Unilever's use of palm oil supplied by companies destroying the rainforests of Indonesia.

At Unilever's Port Sunlight factory in the northern UK, 60 volunteers dressed as orang-utans are disrupting and occupying production lines, while employees at the company's London HQ are greeted by screeching mating calls and orang-utans clambering the building.

At Unilever's Rotterdam HQ, 6 activists have scaled the exterior of the waterfront building to hang a banner in Dutch reading "Unilever don't destroy the forests".

Finally, at Unilever's Rome HQ, 10 orang-utangs stopped employees from entering the building this morning when they dropped off an enormous box reading "stop Dove from destroying rain forests" in front of the main entrance. While loud orang-utan songs emanate from the box, the orang-utans are handing out informative flyers outlining the palm oil situation and their moratorium demands.

The actions coincide with a new report containing fresh evidence showing where Unilever's suppliers are destroying peatland forests and orang-utan habitats to grow palm oil.

The report, entitled Burning up Borneo, accuses Unilever of contributing to this destruction by buying palm oil from these suppliers and doing nothing to prevent the massive expansion of the industry further into Indonesia's rainforests.

Unilever is one of the biggest users of palm oil, and the expansion of the industry threatens to derail international efforts to tackle climate change. Already Indonesia is now the third largest emitter of greenhouse gases on the planet, largely due to deforestation (1).

The preparation of land for new palm oil plantations releases huge amounts of carbon dioxide as the deep peatland soils of the region are drained and then burnt. These peatland areas alone are responsible for 4% of the world's entire greenhouse gas emissions (2).

The report also explains how the growth of the palm oil sector is having a devastating effect on biodiversity. Orang-utan numbers have fallen so drastically that they are now under serious threat of extinction (3). By mapping out areas controlled by key Unilever suppliers, the report explains how companies with direct links to Unilever are now clearing the last remaining orang-utan habitats. The report also contains field research carried out by Greenpeace in the first few months of 2008.

Reacting to the news, Greenpeace International forests campaigner, Tim Birch said: "Unilever, the company behind big brands like Dove, is contributing to one of the greatest environmental crimes ever committed."

"By doing nothing to stop its suppliers destroying rainforests and peatlands to grow palm oil, it is not only killing off the last remaining orang-utans on the planet but also speeding up climate change. Unless Unilever cleans up its act then the orang-utan could be extinct within a few years, and our chances of avoiding climate disaster could disappear with it. "

Unilever chairs the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), an industry body charged with ensuring the sustainability of palm oil. Despite the fact that the RSPO was established in 2002 there is still no certified palm oil on the market and forest destruction continues apace. Even when certified palm oil is finally made available it will still be mixed with non-certified palm oil, making it impossible for Unilever to guarantee that any oil is not based on rainforest destruction.

Greenpeace is demanding Unilever publicly calls for an end to the expansion of palm oil into forest and peatland areas and stops trading with suppliers that continue to destroy rainforests.

Birch continued: "Unilever pretends to be a responsible company, but what it's really responsible for is profiting from rainforest destruction. If they invested as much in sorting out their suppliers as they do on greenwashing their brand, they could fix this problem for good."

Other contacts: Tim Birch, Greenpeace International Forests campaigner on + 00 44 7801 212 960Beth Herzfeld or Vicky Wyatt, Greenpeace International press office on + 00 44 7717 802 891 on +00 44 7801 212 970

VVPR info: Images and footage of forest destruction and orang-utans on palm oil plantations is available on request, as well as footage of injured orang-utans on palm oil plantations is available on request:John Novis at Greenpeace picture desk on + 00 44 7865 8230Michael Nagasaki at Greenpeace video desk on + 00 31 646 162 015

Notes: (1)Wetlands International, Peatland degradation fuels climate change, November 2006(2)Cooking the Climate, Greenpeace Report, November 2007(3)The Last Stand of the Orangutan; State of Emergency: Illegal Logging, Fire and Palm Oil in Indonesia’s National Parks, UNEP, Feb 2007(4)According to the Centre for Orang-Utan protection, at least 1,500 orang-utans died in 2006 as a result of deliberate attacks by plantation workers. (AFP (2007) ‘Activists: Palm oil workers killing endangered Orang-Utans’). Since 1900, the number of Sumatran orang-utans is thought to have fallen by about 91%, with a rapidly accelerating loss towards the end of the 20th century. Since 1990, 28 million hectares of Indonesian rainforest – an area the size of Ecuador – have been destroyed, mostly to clear the way for palm oil plantations. Demand for palm oil is expected to double by 2030 and triple by 2050, when compared to 2000.