Banner at Wilmar Palm Oil Concession © Paul Hilton / Greenpeace

One year ago this week, Wilmar International, the world's biggest trader of palm oil, announced an ambitious No Deforestation, No Peat land, No Exploitation policy. A few months earlier Greenpeace had released evidence of Wilmar trading oil from companies clearing rainforests, tiger habitat and peat lands. After years of campaigning by a large group of NGOs, it seemed that Wilmar was finally ready to acknowledge changes to its practices were needed. On the 5th of December, 2013 Wilmar announced its policy and set a benchmark on paper for palm oil traders that until today remains among the strongest policies against deforestation in the industry.

Since then many companies have followed with commitments, that fall short compared to Wilmar, for example the Sustainable Palm Oil Manifesto. Earlier this week KLK and Musim Mas, among Indonesia;s biggest plantation companies, announced policies that were far from clear on what forests they will protect in the long-term. Last month, IOI Loders Croklaan announced a new policy for all the palm oil they buy and sell. Unfortunately Loders Croklaan is only the refining and trading arm of the bigger IOI Group – and this policy has not been adopted, as yet, by the mother company, which owns all the plantations.

Palm Oil Plantations in Riau © John Novis / Greenpeace

So, Wilmar's benchmark remains unsurpassed by other palm oil traders.

The real challenge however is the implementation of these ambitious  commitments. How do we ensure there is real change on the ground? Wilmar has committed to have their policy fully implemented by end 2015, and half way through its journey to implementation, there remains a lot of work to do.  So here is a list of key priorities for Wilmar, and the other traders, for the coming year:

  • Demand from all suppliers a full moratorium on all forest and peat land clearance

According to Wilmar's progress reports, they have taken action against some suppliers that have been clearing forests and peat lands. But in the coming year efforts need to be accelerated to really have an impact on deforestation rates in Indonesia and Africa. An example of a company to prioritize is the Ganda Group, a company that in 2014 appears to have cleared thousands of hectares of rainforests in one of its concessions in Papua. Wilmar has committed to not be associated with this type of destruction, and we are waiting for action.

Similarly in Wilmar's own plantation in Nigeria there has been indication of forest clearance, including very near or overlapping with a protected area. Wilmar needs to urgently ensure all field operations are in line with its policy and expedite the completion of HCV and HCS assessments.

  • Transparency, monitoring and verification

One of the biggest challenges both for governments and palm oil traders like Wilmar, is that at the moment there is no transparent system to monitor deforestation inside concessions. The Indonesian government is working on the One Map initiative, which seeks to solve inconsistencies and missing information by combining all the maps from different government departments.  Traders like Wilmar, Cargill and Asian Agri should support this by requiring their suppliers provide comprehensive concession maps showing forest areas and make this information available to the government and other stakeholders. Improved transparency between Wilmar and stakeholders on these issues and third party verification is needed to allow NGOs, like Greenpeace and others, the ability to monitor Wilmar's efforts.

  • Social conflict

Monitoring deforestation is one thing, but dealing with the negative social impacts of palm oil expansion – whether it is forced labour, land conflicts or human rights violations – is arguably much more difficult. Over the last year most attention seems to have been on dealing with deforestation, but it might also be the easier part of Wilmar's ambitious policy. The company has faced land conflict in Indonesia, and a new report claims community displacement has taken place at a Wilmar project in Uganda. Wilmar has not always shown the best practices in dealing with social conflict in its supply chain, and the company urgently needs to prioritize this.

With one more year left for Wilmar to implement its policy, we will continue to encourage and challenge Wilmar to ramp up its efforts to break the link between palm oil and deforestation. For forests and the people that depend on them these policies are just pieces of paper; real change on the ground is the only measure of success.

Suzanne Kroger is the Global Palm Oil Coordinator at Greenpeace International.