Palm oil is one of the world’s biggest causes of deforestation, which has highly adverse implications for both biodiversity and climate change, and poses a significant threat to a number of already endangered species.
In Indonesia and Malaysia, where palm oil and wood pulp plantations are the biggest drivers of deforestation, many species are being threatened with extinction, including the orangutan. The orangutan population has more than halved in the last 15 years and is now critically endangered with only 70,000 to 100,000 individuals remaining. In Indonesia alone, an area of forest the size of 146 football pitches is being lost every hour.
Our decision to act was driven by the conviction that genuinely sustainable palm oil was simply not available to us in the mass market. As a small user, we knew that we would have minimal influence as a lobbyist within the RSPO (Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil) if we had chosen to rejoin it; we had stopped being members in 2015 but still maintained our policy of using certified, segregated palm oil in our own label foods. However, we were becoming increasingly concerned that certification did not necessarily mean ‘zero deforestation’ and believed that the industry – including the RSPO – was not acting decisively enough to solve the problem.
So in 2016 we asked our suppliers to remove palm oil where possible and replace it with alternative ingredients. In 2017 our extensive research into the issue led Managing Director Richard Walker to visit West Kalimantan in Borneo to see the problem for himself. This confirmed our belief that truly sustainable palm oil was not available on the mass market and galvanised the board into taking more radical action.
There were three options available. Our first was to re-join the RSPO and lobby for change. As one of over 4,000 members and as a small player, we did not believe we would have any significant leverage. The second option was to direct the 150 of our suppliers that purchase palm oil (some being large corporations) to switch to a sustainable supply via the Palm Oil Innovation Group (POIG). However, with a only a handful of producers signed up to POIG, this was not a practical proposition.
The third option was to take a public stand against deforestation. We knew from past experience, notably in banning GM (genetically modified) ingredients from our Iceland own label food in 1998, that we had the capacity to take disruptive action that would massively increase public awareness of the environmental issues around palm oil. By doing this, we hoped to apply real pressure on the industry to clean up its act.
See our press release here