When it comes to palm oil and deforestation, blame (some) players, not the game

by Joao Talocchi

November 18, 2013

Palm oil harvests take place twice a month and last for a week. Motorbikes are loaded with kernel and taken to Dosan where the harvest is weighed. The fruit is then taken by truck to a milling station in Lubuk Dalam. This farming activity is part of an innovative, independent small-holder approach to palm oil production that has delivered social and economic benefits and helped protect the remaining forest. The Dosan community has committed to protecting its forests and moving to improved environmental management practices that include zero burning, no herbicide use and improved water management to maintain the peatland water system.

© Greenpeace / John Novis

Palm oil harvest

Palm oil harvest

Its game day and your kid is pumped to play in the basketball tournament finals. As the game starts, your kid scores a few 3 pointers leading the team. Suddenly one of the opponent teams players purposely injures your budding basketball superstar forcing him or her to sit out the rest of the game.

You probably wouldn’t advocate for your child to quit basketball all together. And you probably wouldn’t go around saying every basketball player is violent and unfair. Maybe you wouldtalk to that kids parents encouraging a conversation about fair play.

Oil Palm Fruit in Sumatra

Oil Palm Fruit in Sumatra

We cant blame the oil for forest destruction, habitat loss, land disputes, human rights violations and epic forest fires, banning all the products that contain it from our shopping carts. We cant also say everyone in the palm oil industry is a profit loving, peat draining, forest cutting monster. The palm oil game is complex and full of players, many of which have very little to do with those problems.

Palm oil is a critical part of the Indonesian economy, providing crucial income to rural communities and pumping money into that burgeoning country. In fact, smallholders control 40 percent of the oil palm plantation area in Indonesia.

But lets face it; palm oil is the largest driver of deforestation in Indonesia for a reason, meaning some really bad parents out there are raising some truly dirty-playing palm oil. They are the ones to blame. And we are the ones with the power to make them clean up their act.

And here is where the solution starts.

SONY DSCJust a couple of weeks ago, Greenpeace exposed the role the worlds largest palm oil trader in this destruction. This Singapore-based company, named Wilmar, sits at the center of a global web of corporations stretching to companies that make products such as Oreos, Clearasil and Heads & Shoulders shampoo, making us all unwitting accomplices in this destruction.

Greenpeace also reported that the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), despite having sustainable in its name, is not really effective in stopping deforestation and social conflict. Going back to our initial basketball game example, its as if the RSPO was a poor judge, that turned an eye away from the dirty play and let the game, and the player, go on.

Now, Greenpeace is launching an interactive tool that puts the spotlight on seven of the worlds largest consumer products companies, whose sourcing policies expose them and us, customers, to forest destruction. Its the Tiger Challenge and it provides a snapshot of the whole industry we need to transform if we are to savethe last 400 Sumatran tigers that call Indonesias forests home.

The Sumatran Tiger is at risk from destructive palm oil.

The Sumatran Tiger is at risk from destructive palm oil.

Last week, Unilever, Ferreroand Mondelezalready committed to policies to wipe deforestation away from their palm oil supply chains. Nestle has already done that in the past. Its time for the rest of the industry to up their game.

So, if you are the kind of parent that would not let that ball-to-the-head go unnoticed, or the kind of consumer that dont want to support deforestation, biodiversity loss, climate change and social conflict, here are three things you can do to support fair play in the palm oil game.

1. Talk to those parents! Demand companies implement a No Deforestation Policy!

Greenpeace envisions palm oil production by local communities and industrial players that protects forests, and follows sustainable agricultural practices while contributing to economic development andrespecting the social, economic and cultural rights of local communities.

2. Reward fair play! Spread the word that good palm oil exists.

Big league players should follow the lead of the Palm Oil Innovation Group,which has shown that there is a business case for sustainable palm oil. They should also keep an eye on the small leagues, from where they can pick very promising players, as the Dosan village, a great example of sustainable palm oil production.

3. Join those that share your view. Sign up. Now.

This is not the last youll hear from us. To be the first to know about our next steps, text TIGER to 877877. We have a long way to go until we transform the palm oil industry and end forest destruction. Palm oil can and must – make a genuine contribution to Indonesias development, rather than destroying the future for its people, its wildlife and the global climate on which we all depend. Well keep you informed and let you know how to engage even more.

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