The consumer giant is attempting to ignore scientists’ work and rewrite the rules on what counts as forest that should be spared from destruction, backed by the worst palm oil producers. It’s a direct challenge to the strong scientific standards that groups from SumOfUs to Kellogg’s to Mars have aligned behind. If we don’t stop it, this could amount to a license for deforestation in the name of conservation, and undermine the huge progress we’ve made to save the orangutans.
Unilever is the world’s largest palm oil user, and it’s done the right thing in the past to support rainforest protection. It can do the right thing again, and we know that it’s sensitive to consumer pressure. Right now Unilever thinks it can push this greenwash behind closed doors. But if we can put this into the public light, it won’t be worth the risk for Unilever to continue.
It doesn’t have to be this way. We’ve made tremendous progress in getting big palm oil companies and a dozen of the world’s biggest consumer companies, including giants like Kellogg and Mars, to commit to end deforestation in their supply chains. Every week, more companies are joining up and pledging to do the right thing. Up until now, even Unilever has played a key role in promoting strict criteria for responsible palm oil production.
Crucial to the rainforests’ protection is the scientific work that’s been done to define what counts as a forest that should be spared from the bulldozers when companies go deforestation free. Specifically, companies have pledged to protect “High Conservation Value” or “High Carbon Stock” forest — based on a common understanding of what this means. The combined pressure from groups like SumOfUs and other NGOs has worked. Companies from Kellogg’s to Mars to Wilmar — the world’s largest palm oil trader — have accepted this common, strict approach and definition to ensure deforestation-free palm oil.
But now Unilever is participating in an industry attempt to redefine what counts as “High Carbon Stock” forest. Only the worst industry players are participating actively in this greenwash — companies like IOI and Cargill. If they get their way, companies could keep pushing bulldozers into some of the world’s most important rainforests even while claiming to be deforestation free. Even worse, they are refusing to stop any deforestation until the “study” is complete. And now Unilever is joining them.
It’s clear that industry will use this exercise to loosen the definition what forest they will spare from the bulldozers. If they do, it could open the door for continued destruction for what they want to call “sustainable” palm oil. It’s a desperate attempt to continue business as usual and avoid growing consumer demands for deforestation-free palm oil.
Unilever doesn’t have to be a part of this. We need to show Unilever that we won’t tolerate this greenwash.