Top consumer companies’ palm oil sustainability claims go up in flames

by Katie Nelson

November 4, 2019

Bangkok, Thailand, November 4, 2019 – According to a new report released today by Greenpeace International, consumer goods companies Unilever, Mondelez, Nestle, and Procter & Gamble (P&G), as well as top palm oil trader Wilmar, are buying palm oil from producers linked to thousands of fire hotspots in Indonesia this year. The analysis also shows that companies are buying from individual palm oil concessions under public investigation for illegal fires. 

Unilever, Mondelez, Nestle, and P&G are each linked to up to 10,000 fire hotspots, as purchasers of palm oil from producer groups with the highest numbers of fire hotpots in 2019. The palm oil traders Wilmar, Cargill, Musim Mas, and Golden-Agri Resources (GAR) which collectively supply about three-quarters of global palm oil [1] have extensive links to this year’s fires in Indonesia. The new analysis shows extensive overlap among these companies and the palm oil producer groups with the largest burned areas in 2015-2018.

“Companies have created a facade of sustainability. But the reality is that they source from the very worst offenders across the board. The companies responsible for the fires and those who financially benefit from them should be held accountable for these environmental atrocities and the devastating health impacts caused by the fires,” said Annisa Rahmawati, Senior Forest Campaigner at Greenpeace Indonesia.

According to reports, more than 900,000 people in Indonesia have suffered acute respiratory infections due to the smoke haze from this year’s fires, [2] and nearly 10 million children are at risk of lifelong physical and cognitive damages due to air pollution. [3] Between January 1 and October 22, 2019, the fires released an estimated 465 megatonnes of CO2 which is close to the UK’s total annual greenhouse gas emissions. [4] 

The new findings come as companies gather this week in Thailand for the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) meetings. The industry body, which certifies its members’ palm oil as sustainable, maintains that “no burning” is a key criteria to meet its standards. Yet more than two-thirds of the producer groups are linked to recurring fires. All of the traders and consumer goods companies analyzed by Greenpeace are also RSPO members – some are board members. [5] 

While these companies have made commitments to stop deforestation by 2020, forest loss has accelerated, with commodity-driven deforestation as the leading contributor. [6] Greenpeace recently stepped back from a process with Unilever, Mondelez and Wilmar to create a monitoring platform for Indonesian palm oil due to their repeated failures to take the necessary action to achieve zero deforestation. 

Governments around the world have yet to take serious actions against companies or goods linked to the fires. [7] Greenpeace is calling for the companies responsible for and profiting from the fires to be held accountable. [8] 


Full report can be accessed here.

Photos and Videos can be accessed here:


[1] Traders’ market share is according to the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), based on 2015 data.

[2] According to Indonesia’s National Disaster Management Data and Information Center (BPBD), as cited in Tempo.

[3] According to UNICEF, as cited in France24

[4] Emissions from Indonesia’s forest fires are based on the Global Fire Emissions Database (GFED). UK annual emissions are based on the most recent 2014 data from Climate Watch. Many fires are also within the last remaining habitat of critically endangered orangutans and other vulnerable species.

[5] The producer groups linked to recurrent fires are defined as those linked to more than 250 fire hotspots in 2019 and/or those linked to the largest burned areas in 2015-2018. Under RSPO rules, a group should be a member at a level which covers all of its palm oil operations, therefore a group’s operations are here considered RSPO-linked where any part of the group is currently an RSPO member. Greenpeace analysis found that RSPO members are linked to the majority of fires in Indonesia today. The meeting does not have fires on its agenda, according to the RSPO event website.

[6] According to the New York Declaration on Forests (NYDF) Progress Assessment. More details about companies’ failed deforestation commitments can also be found in Greenpeace USA’s recent briefing.

[7] For example, the Indonesian government has not seriously penalised palm oil companies responsible for the largest burned areas in recent years, according to Greenpeace Indonesia analysis. Furthermore, Singaporean and Malaysian governments have also not sanctioned companies, despite the fact that half of the palm oil producers responsible for Indonesia’s 2019 fire hotspots are based in these countries. 

[8] For example, Greenpeace is calling on the European Union to pass new laws to ensure that all products, including palm oil, sold on the European market and investments by European companies are free from deforestation and related human rights abuses.


Katie Nelson, Senior Communications Specialist – Forests, Greenpeace USA, San Francisco, +1 (678) 644-1681, [email protected]

Reykia Fick, Global Communications Lead – Forests, Greenpeace Canada, Ottawa, +1 (819) 918-0470, [email protected]

Katie Nelson

By Katie Nelson

Katie Nelson is a Senior Communications Specialist at Greenpeace USA.

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