Cargill announces anti-deforestation policy for palm oil

Source: Tiffany Stecker, E&E reporter • Posted: Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Large agribusiness Cargill Inc. announced today that it will take steps to ensure that it does not purchase or use palm oil linked to deforestation.

The largest private company in the country said it will build a “traceable and transparent” supply chain and will ensure that its palm oil does not lead to the deforestation of lands with a high conservation value; will end development on peat lands, which store large amounts of carbon; and will no longer buy from firms that exploit indigenous people and local communities to grow palm.

“We will work to ensure that all palm oil and palm products that Cargill produces, trades or processes are in line with these commitments. We will collaborate and seek the support of suppliers, customers, governments, non-governmental organizations and other stakeholders to implement this policy,” the new policy states.

The company grossed $136.7 billion in sales last year. Cargill is the largest importer of palm oil into North America and drives much of the global palm oil trade, making it a target of rainforest campaigners over the past several years.

“Cargill’s new commitment is a big deal,” said Glenn Hurowitz, chairman of the Forest Heroes campaign in a statement. “By committing to only produce, trade and sell responsible palm oil, it is joining other industry leaders in a global transformation to agricultural growth that protects forests and community rights.”

Last December, the largest palm oil trader in the world, Wilmar International Ltd., agreed to halt deforestation in both its own lands and on the plantations of its suppliers (ClimateWire, Dec. 10, 2013).

Palm oil is an inexpensive, versatile oil that is used in packaged foods, soaps, biodiesel and various other products. A boom in production over the last decade has led to the clearing of millions of acres of natural rainforest in Southeast Asia and has become a top campaign priority for many international environmental groups.

While the commitment is a promising start, it does not include a time-bound implementation plan with set dates for completion, said Gemma Tillack, the senior agribusiness campaigner with the Rainforest Action Network.

“It sets an expectation that suppliers will comply immediately, but it doesn’t set a deadline,” Tillack said.

The new policy also lacks information on how Cargill will audit its suppliers, she added, suggesting that Cargill should look to Wilmar’s policy as a model.

Mark Murphy, assistant vice president for corporate responsibility at Cargill, said the company will report on progress annually.

“We wanted to get a policy out and commit around the process more so than focus on timelines,” he said, in response to Rainforest Action Network’s claims.

The company has mapped out 100 percent of the supply chain in Malaysia. Cargill is also using tools to identify high conservation value and high carbon lands. The company will work on verifying progress directly with its third-party suppliers using these tools, Murphy said.