Deforestation for palm oil production in Malaysian Borneo. Photo by Rhett Butler.
Agribusiness giant Bunge has joined the growing ranks of companies that have established zero deforestation policies for their palm oil supply chains.
On Monday, Bunge said it will bar palm oil produced at the expense of peatlands, rainforests, and local communities. However the company didn’t provide a timeline for implementation.
“We are currently in the process of developing an implementation plan in collaboration with suppliers and expect to release it in the coming months,” a Bunge spokesperson told mongabay.com.
Environmentalists nonetheless welcomed the move as a step toward improved sustainability of the palm oil sector.
“Bunge is joining the second green revolution that is breaking the link between agriculture and deforestation,” said Glenn Hurowitz, chairman of the Forest Heroes campaign which has been pushing palm oil producers, buyers, and traders — including Bunge — to adopt zero deforestation policies. “Bunge’s announcement sends a clear message to rogue actors in the palm oil industry that you can’t escape the push for forest and peat conservation. Customers want products made in an environmentally responsible way, period.”
Lucia von Reusner, Shareholder Advocate for Green Century Capital Management, a firm that offers green mutual funds and pressures companies to adopt forest-friendly safeguards, agreed.
“Companies and their investors increasingly recognize that destroying rainforests and driving climate change is unacceptable business practice,” she said in a statement. “Bunge’s new palm oil policy sends a strong signal that markets are rapidly shifting away from unsustainable deforestation.”
Lael Goodman, an analyst with Union of Concerned Scientists, an advocacy group that is also campaigning for greener palm oil, added that Bunge’s commitment is significant because a disproportionate of the palm oil it sources is from recently cleared peatlands in Malaysian Borneo.
“Our hope is that Bunge’s leadership will have real implications limiting palm oil plantation expansion onto peatlands in Malaysia,” said Goodman in a statement.
The Malaysian palm oil industry has been particularly slow in committing to zero deforestation. Industry officials have in fact criticized such policies and companies that sign them.
Deforestation for an oil palm plantation in Malaysia.
Bunge’s move follows in the footsteps of other agribusiness goliaths Wilmar and Cargill, whose policies apply across all their commodity supply chains. Von Reusner’s urged Bunge to also extend its commitment to its other businesses.
“We also urge Bunge to extend this commitment across all of its commodities, since the risks associated with deforestation are not unique to palm oil alone.”
Commodity production for export and trade is the biggest driver of tropical deforestation. Accordingly, green groups have increasingly targeted the world’s most influential companies, asking them to adopt policies that bar forest conversion.