Forest Fires in Sumatra © Ulet  Ifansasti / Greenpeace

The forest fires that have set Sumatra ablaze and engulfed the region with record-breaking air pollution remind us that forest destruction is very real. It’s a problem with global effects and demands global solutions. That is why Greenpeace is reminding big global consumer companies, and big consumers of commodities like palm oil, that they could be driving the destruction of Indonesia’s forests.

We have asked over 130 consumer companies if they can guarantee that there is no forest destruction in their supply chain, including that which is sourced through global traders like Wilmar International and IOI. And we’ve recently had the opportunity to push our case even further.

In a convention room in Jakarta, I am with some of the biggest movers and shakers in the consumer goods industry for the Tropical Forest Alliance (TFA) meeting, bringing together governments, NGOs and consumer companies such as Monedelez, Unilever and Procter & Gamble to discuss how to exclude deforestation from their supply chains.

This is a noble aim. Three years ago they came out with a commitment on ‘No Deforestation’ by 2020, but since then it’s not been firmly established how this is going to be achieved.

The TFA, like many companies, relies on the RSPO to break the link between palm oil and forest destruction. But as Greenpeace has shown in the past (here and here), the RSPO is not the silver bullet many had hoped for.

The simple reason is this: forest destruction and development on peatlands can continue under the RSPO certification scheme. The fires that are burning up Sumatra and engulfing the region in haze is the result of decades of peat clearance and forest degradation, including by RSPO-members. Rather than giving dirty palm oil producers a green badge, it’s time for the RSPO to implement a complete ban on deforestation and peatland development.

When companies try to absolve themselves of responsibility for the current disaster by pointing to their no burning policies it shows they are trying to distract attention away from the true drivers of this choking haze wave. Decades of forest destruction and drainage of peatland by the palm oil sector – RSPO members included – has helped dry up Riau’s peatlands.

So, how can consumer companies deal with this issue?

Step one: Find out where your palm oil comes from.

At the moment many companies buy untraceable palm oil from big international traders, like Wilmar International and IOI. Dirty palm oil from forest destruction is sourced by these traders to the global market. Any commitment on to ‘zero deforestation’ is hollow if the company does not even know where the palm oil they buy is coming from.

An example of this is Duta Palma: this notorious palm oil producer with a track record of forest fires and forest destruction was finally ejected from the RSPO following intense campaigning. Question now is: how can consumer companies guarantee that Duta Palma palm oil is not ending up in our favourite brands?

Step two: consumer companies need to stop buying from destruction, and start buying from progressive producers that are committed to change.

A small group of progressive producers, together with social and environmental NGOs have come together to draw a vision of what real responsible palm oil should look like: protection of forests, peat lands, respecting the rights of local communities. This is the type of action we need to give consumer companies a clear choice: do you want to continue buying dirty palm oil, or support change?

Greenpeace is curious to hear how these companies respond to our questions. In the meantime we will continue to push those companies responsible for the peat fires plaguing Indonesia are brought to account.

Watch this space.

Bustar Maitar is head of the Indonesia Forests Campaign at Greenpeace International