In a bold online video, the environmental group Greenpeace cleverly links candy-giant Nestle to oil palm-related deforestation and the deaths of orangutans. Clearly angered over the video, Nestle struck back by having it banned from YouTube and replaced with this statement: “This video is no longer available due to a copyright claim by Société des Produits Nestlé S.A.”
However Nestle’s reaction to the video only spread it far and wide (see the ad below): social network sites like Twitter, Facebook, and Reddit were all flooded with the ad as well as rising criticism against Nestle—one of the world’s largest food producers—including calls for boycotts.
Greenpeace began sustained action against Nestle on Wednesday when they released new evidence that linked Nestle to illegal deforestation in Indonesia through one of its palm oil suppliers, Sinar Mas.
Oil palm plantation in Sumatra, Indonesia. While palm oil plantations may look ‘green’ studies have shown a drastic reduction in biodiversity and large carbon emissions due to deforestation.
“While many companies such as Unilever and Kraft are making efforts to disassociate themselves from the worst practices of the palm oil industry, Nestlé has done diddly squat,” the organization wrote in a blog.
The report spurred Nestle to cancel its contract with Sinar Mas—months after Sinar Mas was shown to be involved in illegal deforestation—but the corporation continues to purchase oil palm from Cargill, which is supplied in part by Sinar Mas. For its part, Cargill says it is investigating Greenpeace’s allegations and if Sinar Mas is found to be committing illegal deforestation they will drop them. Nestle has said in a statement: “we share the deep concern about the serious environmental threat to rain forests and peat fields in South East Asia caused by the planting of palm oil plantations.”
To prove this to its consumers, the company says it is committed to purchasing only sustainable palm oil by 2015. However, critics contend this is too late.
“Not only are these areas key habitat for orangutans, but also crucial carbon stores; the destruction of these areas is a major cause of Indonesia’s rocketing carbon emissions,” Greenpeace said in a statement. .
Indonesia is the world’s third largest emitter of greenhouse gases largely due to large-scale deforestation across the nation. Between 1990 and 2005, Indonesia lost more than 28 million hectares of forest, including 21.7 hectares of virgin forest. The country has declined from 82 percent forest cover in the 1960s to less than half today.
Orphaned orangutan, of which there are thousands, at Sepilok in Sabah, Malaysia. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.
Deforestation is also the leading cause of biodiversity loss in the region. While orangutans have come to represent the movement against deforestation by oil palm plantations in the same way that polar bears symbolize climate change, Indonesia is home to tens of thousands of other species, many of which are threatened by deforestation.
Since Wednesday Nestle’s Facebook page has been hit by growing anger against the multi-billion dollar food giant. Nestle complained that some Facebook users were posting new images of its logo, which shows three happy birds in a tree, and stated that it will delete any “altered version of any of our logos as your profile pic”. This statement brought another firestorm of criticism, which Nestle has eventually caved to, now allowing ‘alterations’.
This is not the first time Nestle has been called out for its practices. The company has long-faced criticism for aggressively marketing its baby formula to poor mothers in the developing world.
(03/01/2010) It is no secret that orangutans are threatened with extinction because their rain forests are being destroyed at an alarming rate. Ten years ago, Shawn Thompson, a writer, former journalist and university professor, set out to chronicle the threat to orangutans in a book released in March 2010. The book is called The Intimate Ape: Orangutans and the Secret Life of a Vanishing Species. The book spends most of the time talking about the nature of orangutans and the relationships between orangutans and people. But the ultimate underlying message is there about the source of the peril to orangutans and the solution. Thompson says that the problem of saving orangutans has to do with communications and human nature.
(02/24/2010) Unilever has told Indonesian suppliers to stop sourcing palm oil from Duta Palma due to concerns over deforestation, reports Reuters.
(02/22/2010) Indonesia will target its last frontier — its territory on New Guinea — as it seeks to become a major agricultural exporter, reports the AFP.
(02/04/2010) The European Union may be planning to classify oil palm plantations as forests, raising fears among environmental groups of expanded conversion of tropical rainforests for biofuel production, reports the EUobserver, which cites a leaked document from the European Commission. The draft document shows that policymakers are considering language that would specifically allow use of biofuels produced via conversion of rainforests to oil palm plantations.
(02/02/2010) Incorporating 17,000 tropical islands, Indonesia is one of the world’s richest areas of biodiversity. However, according to the Jakarta Post, over half of this biodiversity remains unrecorded with only 20 of the more than 400 regencies in the country recording species.
(01/19/2010) An activist group linked General Mills to destruction of rainforests in Southeast Asia in dramatic fashion on Tuesday, when it unfurled a giant banner, reading “Warning: General Mills Destroys Rainforests”, outside the company’s Minneapolis headquarters building.
(01/16/2010) The Malaysian palm oil industry has been broadly accused of contributing to the dramatic decline in orangutan populations in Sabah, a state in northern Borneo, over the past 30 years. The industry has staunchly denied these charges and responded with marketing campaigns claiming the opposite: that oil palm plantations can support and nourish the great red apes. The issue came to a head last October at the Orangutan Colloquium held in Kota Kinabalu. There, confronted by orangutan biologists, the palm oil industry pledged to support restoring forest corridors along rivers in order to help facilitate movement of orangutans between remaining forest reserves across seas of oil palm plantations. Attending NGOs agreed that they would need to work with industry to find a balance that would allow the ongoing survival of orangutans in the wild. Nevertheless the conference was still marked by much of the same rhetoric that has characterized most of these meetings — chief palm oil industry officials again made dubious claims about the environmental stewardship of the industry. However this time there was at least acknowledgment that palm oil needs to play an active role in conservation.
(01/15/2010) A company in Uganda is pressuring the environment ministry to allow it to log a protected forest reserve to establish a palm oil plantation, reports The New Vision.
(01/12/2010) Palm oil is one of the world’s most traded and versatile agricultural commodities. It can be used as edible vegetable oil, industrial lubricant, raw material in cosmetic and skincare products and feedstock for biofuel production. Growing global demand for palm oil and the ensuing cropland expansion has been blamed for a wide range of environmental ills, including tropical deforestation, peatland degradation, biodiversity loss and CO2 emissions. In response to these concerns, a group of stakeholders—including activists, investors, producers and retailers—formed the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) to develop a certification scheme for palm oil produced through environmentally- and socially-responsible ways. It is widely anticipated that the creation of a premium market for RSPO-certified sustainable palm oil (CSPO) would incentivize palm oil producers to improve their management practices.
(01/07/2010) Indonesia will rehabilitate degraded forests and plant millions of hectares of new forests to meet its target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions 26 percent from projected levels by 2020, reports Reuters.
(12/27/2009) 2009 may prove to be an important turning point for tropical forests. Lead by Brazil, which had the lowest extent of deforestation since at least the 1980s, global forest loss likely declined to its lowest level in more than a decade. Critical to the fall in deforestation was the global financial crisis, which dried up credit for forest-destroying activities and contributed to a crash in commodity prices, an underlying driver of deforestation.
(12/14/2009) An investigation commissioned by Unilever, the world’s largest buyer of palm oil, confirms that Indonesian group Sinar Mas, the world’s second largest producer of palm oil, has been destroying forests and peatlands despite committing to “greener” palm oil production as a member of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). Unilever has now suspended its $32.6 million contract with Sinar Mas.
(12/12/2009) The world’s largest user of palm oil, Unilever, has suspended its $32.6 million contract with the Indonesian group Sinar Mas after an independent audit proved that Sinar Mas is involved in the destruction of rainforest, reports Reuters. The audit was conducted early this year after a report by Greenpeace alleged that Sinar Mas was engaged in deforestation and the draining of peatlands, both of which release significant amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Deforestation across Indonesia and Malaysia, in part for oil palm plantations, has also added pressure on many many endangered species, including orangutans, tigers, elephants, and rhinos.
(12/02/2009) Indonesia has 18 million hectares of land suitable for oil palm cultivation, nearly twice the 9.7 million hectares that have already been allocated for plantations, said Agriculture Minister Suswono said at the opening of the 5th Indonesian Palm Oil Conference in Bali.
(11/19/2009) On October 19th, Plantation Industries and Commodities Minister Tan Sri Bernard Dompok told parliament that oil palm harvesters and rubber tappers are living above Malaysia’s national poverty line, according to a story in the Malaysian Insider. But now representatives of the workers are saying Dompok lied.
(11/13/2009) Members of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), an initiative developing criteria to improve the environmental performance of palm oil, agreed to declare the Bukit Tigapuluh Ecosystem in Sumatra a ‘high conservation value area’. The decision, voted on by RSPO General Assembly members at the group’s annual meeting earlier this month in Kuala Lumpur, effectively bans oil palm development of the endangered forest ecosystem by RSPO members.
(11/10/2009) Oil palm developers in the Indonesian half of New Guinea are signing questionable deals that exploit local communities and put important forest ecosystems at risk, alleges a new report from Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) and Telapak.
(11/10/2009) Forty percent of lowland forests in Sumatra and Kalimantan (Indonesian Borneo) were cleared from 1990 to 2005, reports a new high resolution assessment of land cover change in Indonesia.
(11/04/2009) Oil palm expansion is threatening Borneo’s rarest wild cats, reports a new study based on three years of fieldwork and more than 17,000 camera trap nights. Studying cats in five locations—each with different environments—in Sabah, Malaysian Borneo, researchers found that four of five cat species are threatened by habitat loss due to palm oil plantations. “No other place has a higher percentage of threatened wild cats!” Jim Sanderson, an expert on the world’s small cats, told Mongabay.com. Pointing out that 80 percent of Borneo’s cats face extinction, Sanderson said that “not one of these wild cats poses a direct threat to humans.”
(11/04/2009) Palm oil producers outside of Malaysia and Indonesia pledged to stop developing new plantations on peatlands, circumventing an impasse that developed between palm oil producers and environmental groups meeting this week at the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil in Kuala Lumpur. The factions deadlocked over plans to account for emissions from plantation development, delaying the criteria for a year.