About one year ago today, I was pretty down. It was Thanksgiving night, and the Forest Heroes campaign, which I chair, had been running a big global campaign to persuade Wilmar International, Asia’s largest agribusiness company, to eliminate deforestation and human rights abuse throughout its enormous supply chain.
After four trips to Singapore in the space of a year, we were on the cusp of a breakthrough that I felt had the potential to transform global agriculture: we’d negotiated a “No Deforestation, No Peat, No Exploitation” policy for Wilmar that would be applied through their enormous global supply chains on all six continents.
But Wilmar was refusing to act unless their competitors went along too, and their competitors seemed happy to watch Wilmar draw all the fire from our campaign as they went about business as usual. We thought we had been making progress with Wilmar, but I thought it might have all collapsed – and I wrote an email to my team, “Suit up – we’re going to war.”
Then, I turned out the lights and got into bed at my parents house in New York – and reflected that all my hopes might be dashed for the moment. Then, my cell phone started buzzing – and there was a text message saying that our deal was back on. I turned on the lights, confirmed the news, and booked a flight for Singapore leaving 24 hours later.
A rally held in November 2013 at Kellogg’s HQ in Battle Creek, Michigan calling on Kellogg’s to end their partnership with Wilmar if they didn’t adopt a No-Deforestation policy. Photo courtesy of the Forest Heroes campaign.
The author, Scott Poynton, and Wilmar CEO Kuok Khoon Hong after signing the No-Deforestation policy last year.
After another roller coaster of high-stakes negotiations involving The Forest Trust’s virtuosic Scott Poynton and Unilever in Singapore, we sealed the deal – and Wilmar adopted its groundbreaking policy on December 5 – exactly one year ago today.
The progress that Wilmar’s courageous step brought has since then significantly exceeded expectations and created the economic and political conditions that could not only drive a dramatic reduction in deforestation for palm oil in Southeast Asia, but for crops all over the world.
Chart showing the share of palm oil traded on international markets that is now bound by zero deforestation commitments, based on 2013 global consumption figure of 57 million metric tons, reflecting globally traded volume. Total global production volume is estimated at 63 million tons, suggesting zero-deforestation commitments now cover 87% of palm oil production. Company data may include some overlap due to inter-company trading.
In short, we are seeing the beginnings of a second green revolution in global agriculture, but this one is making it compatible with a living planet. Here are some of the key indicators we’ve seen since the announcement of Wilmar’s policy:
- Wilmar has made steady progress on implementing its policy. It has cut ties with several problematic suppliers, driven improvements in many more (including large players like Bumitama), and aggressively promoted good forest policy.
- Wilmar spurred its competitors to follow suit. GAR, Cargill, Bunge, IOI, and Musim Mas have all announced No Deforestation policies. A year ago, just five percent of traded palm oil was covered by No Deforestation sourcing policies. Now that number is 96 percent, though important work remains on implementation.
- Cargill joined Wilmar in extending its policy to all commodities around the world. Attention is rising to deforestation related to commodity production in Latin America and Africa, and to issues like the excess use of fertilizer and native prairie protection in the United States.
- The Government of Liberia concluded an agreement with Norway that will require commodity companies operating in Liberia to adhere to Wilmar’s policy.
- The Indonesian Chamber of Commerce (Kadin) joined the leading palm oil producers in a pledge that called on the Indonesian government to improve forest governance, and called on the private sector to adopt No Deforestation policies. Indonesia’s new president, Joko Widodo, has announced steps to review palm oil concessions and take other forest and peat protection measures.
- The Singapore Government has adopted a Trans-Boundary Haze Law that imposes extra-territorial civil liability on companies that cause haze in Singapore through forest clearing and burning.
- More than 25 major countries and 30 large companies signed the “New York Declaration on Forests” that calls on companies to adopt No-Deforestation policies, and on the world to restore hundreds of millions of acres of forest, and end global deforestation no later than 2030.
All in all, it’s been a monumental year for forests. I truly believe the world has reached a tipping point in how we can feed billions of people without destroying forests, local communities, and the climate. We still have a long way to go and much hard work remains, but looking back at how far we’ve come in the last year, I’ve never been more hopeful.