Most Palm Oil Buyers in Europe Fail Sustainability Tests

The majority of European palm oil buyers are failing to buy certified sustainable palm oil, despite its availability and the previous commitments by many companies to purchase it, according to a first assessment by WWF.

WWF’s Palm Oil Buyers’ Scorecard, released today, scored the performance of 59 of the most prominent retailers and manufacturers in Europe that buy and use palm oil in their products. The Scorecard comes as the world’s largest producers, buyers, and traders of palm oil gather for the 7th Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, held Nov. 2-4 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

The Scorecard reveals that 10 of those 59 companies have scored 20 or more points, and thus are considered by WWF to be showing real progress on their commitments to buy and use sustainable palm oil. They have joined the Roundtable, properly monitored their palm oil purchases, and have put in place and started to take action on commitments to buy certified sustainable palm oil.

WWF has been asking buyers of palm oil to commit to the RSPO since 2003, and while some of these companies show encouraging signs of stepping up their commitments and actions on sustainable palm oil, the majority of companies are not. 19 of the 59 companies scored between 0 and 3 out of 29 possible points, meaning that they have taken very little or no action to curb their use of non-certified palm oil and are failing to respond to the efforts that palm oil producers have made to achieve certification under the Roundtable

Meanwhile, a range of 28 companies scored between 5 – 20 points. While a few are showing progress many of these have only just begun to take action on responsible palm oil. While some have put policies and systems in place, often they have yet to start buying certified sustainable palm oil.

“WWF welcomes the action of those companies that have moved toward buying certified palm oil,” said Rod Taylor, Director of the Forests Programme at WWF International. “Although many companies have a long way to go, the performances of the top companies in the Scorecard signal to the rest of the industry that it is possible to turn commitment into action and transform the market.”
Further actions by these companies will be captured in the next version of the Scorecard, scheduled for 2011.

“However, WWF also acknowledges that even the top scoring companies in the Scorecard need to continue to raise their game if they are to use certified palm oil for 100% of their palm oil supply, which is the stated objective of many of these companies.”

“Because certified palm oil is now available, it is time to hold major palm oil users to account for their policies and actions,” Taylor said.

The growing demand for palm oil is adding to the already severe pressure on remaining rainforest areas of the world. The loss of forest in Indonesia is threatening the survival of species such as the orang-utan, the Sumatran tiger, rhino and elephant. Forest loss and the draining of peatlands for palm oil plantations is also contributing to climate change and displacing local people who rely on the forest for food and shelter. Palm oil is one of the world’s fastest expanding crops in Southeast Asia as well as West Africa and South America.

It is because of threats like this that WWF worked with other NGOs and the palm oil industry to set up the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) in 2003. Since then WWF has worked with the industry to ensure that the RSPO standards contain robust social and environmental criteria, including a prohibition on the conversion of valuable forests. Certified Sustainable Palm Oil has been available since November 2008 and provides assurance that valuable tropical forests have not been cleared and that environmental and social safeguards have been met during the production of the palm oil.

WWF opted to grade palm oil buyers after releasing figures in May showing that only a small percentage of the sustainable palm oil available on the market had been bought. Since then, the situation is starting to improve. Over the last year, RSPO certified plantations have produced over 1,000,000 tonnes of certified sustainable palm oil (CSPO), and over 195,000 tonnes have been sold to date. While this still represents only 19 percent of the available supply on average, the RSPO has reported that CSPO sales have been growing in recent months.

The scoring of companies was a two-step process that took six months to complete. In the first step, WWF evaluated the performance of companies based on publicly available data, such as corporate sustainability reports. WWF then sent a preliminary score to each company with a package of information to brief companies about the Scorecard, including details on the project’s objectives and the methodology. The companies were given the opportunity to submit additional information to WWF that might improve their scores.

The Scorecard will be published every two years and eventually will expand to include palm oil buyers in other markets around the world.

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