Unilever's 'Monkey Business' - Greenpeace swings into action

Feature story - April 21, 2008
It's been a busy morning for Greenpeace activists across Europe, many of whom have been dressing up as orang-utans to draw attention to Unilever's "monkey business". Today, we're launching the next stage in our campaign to protect the rainforests of Indonesia from the expansion of the palm oil industry.

Orang-utan suited activists scale a Unilever plant to protest Unilever's use of palm oil from Indonesian forests.

Our research shows that Unilever, maker of Dove and many other well-known brands, is buying palm oil from companies that are destroying valuable rainforest and peatland areas; bad news not only for the millions of people who depend on these for their way of life and endangered species such as the orang-utan, but also for the global climate.

UPDATE (1 May 2008):   Good news! Unilever (Dove's parent company) is feeling the heat from customers like you, and has made a positive statement. Read about it here. We'llmeet with them soon to talk about the details. For now, we need moresignatures to this open letter and keep spreading the word.

In the United Kingdom, at the Unilever factory at Port Sunlight, near Liverpool, sixty Greenpeace activists occupied the production lines, while in London employees at Unilever's HQ were greeted on their way to work by screeching mating calls and orang-utans clambering all over the building. At Unilever's Rotterdam HQ, in the Netherlands, six activists scaled the waterfront building and hung a banner reading, "Unilever, Don't Destroy the Forests". In Rome, another ten orang-utans stopped Unilever employees entering their Italian HQ. Jumping out of a huge box marked, "Stop Dove from Destroying Rainforests," the orang-utans handed out flyers outlining the palm oil situation and demanding a moratium.

Why Unilever? For a start, Unilever is one of the largest users of palm oil in the world, funnelling up to 1 in every 20 litres produced from Indonesia into some of its many products. This means Unilever has a huge influence on the way palm oil is made.

Further, as chair of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), Unilever has even more clout. The RSPO is a group of retailers, manufacturers and suppliers whose aim is to create standards for the production of sustainable palm oil. As things stand, however, it's little more than a greenwashing operation, as card-carrying members of the RSPO continue to be involved in the destruction of Indonesia's rainforests.

Following its creation in 2002, the RSPO set up a certification scheme, but six years later not a drop of certified oil is yet available. Even when certified palm oil does become available later this year, there's nothing to prevent it being blended with non-certified palm oil. This will make it impossible for RSPO members to guarantee that their palm oil does not come from recently deforested areas. All this was documented in our ' Cooking the Climate' report, produced last November, in which Unilever featured prominently. Since then, we've collected fresh evidence of Unilever's role in deforestation.

Today's actions coincide with the release of our new report, ' How Unilever's suppliers are Burning Up Borneo'. The report details how some of Unilever's key palm oil suppliers - Sinar Mas, Wilmar, Sime Darby and IOI among them - are devastating forest and peatland areas in Central Kalimantan. Not only are millions of people who live in or rely on the forests for their survival being put at risk, but as these areas are destroyed many endangered species are at even greater risk of extinction, including Sumatran tigers, Javan rhinoceroses and orang-utans.

There are also devastating consequences for the climate. As the forests and tropical peatlands of Indonesia are destroyed and converted into oil palm plantations, huge volumes of greenhouse gases are released, accelerating climate change. Indonesia is the third largest emitter of these gases in the world, in large part due to the destruction of its forests at the hands of the palm oil industry.

This is not great going for a company that paints itself green and responsible: take a look at Unilever's website, where it makes a big deal of its efforts to be both environmentally and socially responsible. As our report shows, when it comes to palm oil the reality is very different!

We want Unilever to clean up its act, not just with the palm oil it uses in Dove but in all its products. To start the ball rolling, we've devised a three-point action plan for Unilever:

  1. support an immediate moratorium on the destruction of rainforest and peatland areas in Indonesia to grow palm oil;
  2. stop trading with palm oil suppliers who are involved in this destruction; and
  3. pressure the RSPO to also support a moratorium.

Talk to Dove

Unilever, the maker of Dove beauty products, is buying palm oil from suppliers who destroy Indonesia's rainforests. We've got the proof. Unilever is causing forest destruction, species extinction and climate change.

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