Green palm oil push: Kit Kat and Dove makers could face fines

KUALA LUMPUR: Companies that make top brands including Kit Kat chocolate and Dove soap may face fines if they fail to buy more green palm oil under new rules aimed at improving the controversial industry’s environmental sustainability.
Green groups cautiously welcomed the move from the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), a watchdog that sets environmentally-friendly standards and brings together a wide range of industry players, but were sceptical the rules would be strictly enforced.
The world’s most widely used vegetable oil is found in everything from biscuits to make-up, but has long drawn the ire of environmentalists who blame it for fuelling widespread deforestation.
Swathes of jungle, particularly in the world’s top producers Indonesia and Malaysia, continue to be cleared as plantations expand aggressively, laying waste to the habitats of a kaleidoscope of rare animals, including endangered orangutans and Borneo pygmy elephants.
Consumer pressure has increased in the West as activists mount strident campaigns denouncing the destructive industry, leading some companies to cut back on the commodity or stop using it entirely.
Public disgust was underlined last year when millions viewed a Christmas advert from British supermarket chain Iceland, which has stopped using palm oil in its own-brand products, featuring a cartoon orangutan telling a little girl its jungle home had been destroyed.
Iceland’s managing director had previously criticised the “agonisingly slow” progress in sustainable palm oil production.
The RSPO was established in 2004 to promote green palm oil, and developed criteria for growers who want their product certified as “sustainable”.
These include a ban on logging virgin forests for plantations and reducing use of fires — which sometimes burn out of control and spew toxic haze into the air — to clear land, but activists regularly criticise the body for failing to enforce its rules.
Joining the Kuala Lumpur-headquartered body is voluntary and it has attracted over 4,000 members, including growers, consumer goods giants and traders. Nineteen per cent of palm oil globally is now RSPO-certified.
Major companies value membership as it boosts their green credentials and losing it can bring a flood of negative publicity.
When Kit Kat maker Nestle was thrown out last year for breaching the rules, they regained their membership within weeks after scrambling to meet requirements.
Critics however say progress towards making the industry more environmentally friendly has been hampered as major firms such as Nestle and Unilever, which owns Dove, are not purchasing enough of the more expensive sustainable oil, discouraging farmers from growing it.
In a bid to force them into action, the watchdog will require companies to increase their purchases of sustainable palm oil by 15 per cent every year or potentially face fines or suspension from the body. — AFP