Palm Oil And Snack Foods: What is Industry Doing?

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It would seem that our love affair with palm oil is no one-night stand; a look through the ingredients of most of our supermarkets products – from ice-cream to cookies, from crackers to cereals, from noodles to sauces, from lipsticks to shampoos, will reveal palm oil's reach into everyday items and household brands.

Author Annalisa Dorigo, 12.01.15

It would seem that our love affair with palm oil is no one-night stand; a look through the ingredients of most of our supermarkets products – from ice-cream to cookies, from crackers to cereals, from noodles to sauces, from lipsticks to shampoos, will reveal palm oil’s reach into everyday items and household brands. Alongside deforestation to make room for palm oil plantations, climate change, biodiversity loss and human rights abuses have all been part and parcel of the supply chain of this oily commodity. The challenge of ‘cleaning up’ palm oil has long been recognised, but who’s doing what? The ‘Snackfood 20 Scorecard’ sheds some light on the food industry’s achievements, or lack thereof.

A highly versatile product, palm oil’s thickening, smoothing, moisturising, cleansing, colour-fixing properties, as well as its ease of processing and transport, have turned it into a wonder-ingredient for many industries, such as food, cosmetics, and biofuels.

With 50 percent of what we buy at the supermarket containing this versatile-yet-controversial ingredient, and with demand rising, the call is growing for the economic development benefits it offers to square up with the environmental and social havoc it causes through its unsustainable production practices, namely: deforestation, illegal logging, habitat loss, indigenous populations human rights abuses and poor labour standards in its supply chain.

The Snack Food 20 Scorecard, created by the Rainforest Action Network (RAN), seeks to expose the link between Conflict Palm Oil and the foods we have grown to love. It focuses on a group of 20 large corporate palm oil end-users, including PepsiCo, Unilever, Kraft, Nestle, Kellogg’s, Campbell’s, Heinz and Hershey’s, to mention a few. Companies are ranked according to how responsible their palm oil procurement practices are, in all the countries where they buy or sell their products.

According to the scorecard, responsible palm oil procurement means:

  • Protection of rainforests and peatlands
  • Respecting and upholding human rights, including the right for communities to give or withhold their Free, Prior and Informed Consent to development on their lands
  • Respecting and upholding workers’ rights
  • Resolving social conflicts and providing remedy and redress for past violations
  • Reducing greenhouse gas emissions and instituting a ban on burning Including smallholders in supply chains and ensuring equitable benefit sharing
  • Legally acquiring land rights and operations

Based on how well companies reach, or strive to reach, these criteria, they are then classified as either: true leaders, front-runners or laggards.

While some companies are certainly doing better than others – PepsiCo, Unilever, Heinz and Kraft for example are laggards, while Hershey’s, Kellogg’s and Nestle are front-runners – unfortunately there are as yet no ‘true leaders’. That is, none of the Snack Food 20 companies “have cut Conflict Palm Oil from their global supply chains by adopting and fully implementing a time-bound responsible palm oil procurement policy”. None can yet “guarantee to their customers that all their branded products, regardless of which country they are sold in, are free of Conflict Palm Oil.”

The Snack Food 20 Scorecard focuses on a group of industry players who through their global reach and huge purchasing power can have a tremendous impact on improving the record of the palm oil industry.

Through it, we consumers might be able to start keeping some snack food cravings at bay, while helping to push for an end to ‘conflict palm oil’ through our wallets.

Here’s an interesting video on what ‘conflict palm oil’ is all about:

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