Note: this post was originally titled “75% of world’s traded palm oil now bound by zero deforestation commitments” before it became apparent that IOI’s parent corporation has not signed a zero deforestation commitment. The policy only applies to IOI Group’s subsidiary, IOI Loders Croklaan.
Over sixty percent of palm oil traded internationally is now bound by zero deforestation policies after IOI Loders Croklaan committed to excluding forest destruction from its supply chain, says Forest Heroes, a campaign that aims to reduce the environmental impact of palm oil production.
IOI Loders Croklaan’s parent corporation IOI Group has been aggressively targeted by environmentalists for its links to deforestation and controversies over conflicts with local communities. The company recently joined the Sustainable Palm Oil Manifesto, a push by several major palm oil producers and traders to establish stronger environmental safeguards. But green groups have criticized the initiative as being weak relative to a rival standard adopted by the first companies that committed to zero deforestation sourcing policies, including Golden-Agri Resources and Wilmar and now Cargill and Bunge.
IOI Loders Croklaan’s new policy includes no deforestation of areas defined as having high conservation value areas or high carbon stocks. Notably it also specifies “Protection of peat lands regardless of depth in new developments”, a measure which many palm oil companies have been slow to adopt due to the historical ease of acquiring peat lands for plantation development in Malaysia and Indonesia.
Krispy Kreme protest in Madison. Photo courtesy of Forest Heroes
While Forest Heroes welcomed the commitment, the campaign said it “would be closely scrutinizing implementation efforts.”
“This can’t just be a policy on paper,” said Forest Heroes Director Deborah Lapidus. “Given IOI’s record, they need to move rapidly to make their supply chain transparent, address serious human rights issues, and secure participation from a credible implementation partner. While we welcome IOI’s commitment to apply the new policy to IOI Group, third party suppliers and subsidiaries, we urge IOI Group to formally adopt the zero-deforestation policy right away.”
IOI Loders Croklaan said it would adopt “a time bound action plan”, but didn’t specify the timeline for implementation.
Forest Heroes called on two other palm oil giants, Sime Darby or Musim Mas, to make similar commitments.
“IOI’s move signals that palm oil companies who engage in deforestation really have nowhere left to go,” said Forest Heroes Chairman Glenn Hurowitz.
But the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), another campaign organization, was more critical of the commitment, noting it doesn’t yet apply to IOI Loders Croklaan’s parent IOI Group.
“IOI Loders Croklaan is taking promising steps to reduce deforestation, but this commitment is limited in scope because the parent company, the IOI Group, has not adopted the commitment,” UCS said in a statement. “The Union of Concerned Scientists urges the IOI Group to adopt a palm oil commitment that provides full protections to forests and peatlands, wetland areas that store vast amounts of carbon. This commitment should also include a clear timeline for [implementation].”
Clearing on a hillside in Malaysian Borneo for an oil palm plantation.
Palm oil controversies
In recent decades, palm oil production has emerged as one of the biggest drivers of deforestation in Southeast Asia, contributing to the loss of some 3.5 million hectares of rainforests and peatlands in Indonesia and Malaysia between 1990. Biologists have called the crop the “single most immediate threat to the greatest number of species”, including endangered orangutans, tigers, elephants, and rhinos. Additionally, in some places oil palm plantations have created or exacerbated social conflict with local communities that rely on forest resources for their day-to-day existence.
Yet palm oil is a highly productive and profitable form of land use in the tropics, making expansion difficult to curtail. For that reason, most environmental campaigns focus on shifting new oil palm development to non-forest lands, rather than pushing for a boycott of the product itself.