United front needed on sustainable palm oil

In Tuesday's commentary on how to mitigate the yearly haze menace ("When the haze doesn't go away"), the authors said that efforts made by consumers to boycott products from plantations that use the slash-and-burn method to clear land would be futile, citing difficulties in identifying the culprits, as well as in penalising plantation workers and the final producers of palm oil-based products.

These oil palm plantations will continue to remain impervious to pleas for a more environmentally sustainable mode of production as long as their bottom line remains unaffected.

Besides creating transboundary haze by indiscriminate burning, palm oil production is also implicated in the destruction of rainforests, displacement of communities and, of course, global warming.

Already, consumer campaigns by conservation bodies and human rights organisations have caused some oil palm growers to adopt more environmentally and ethically sound practices, a clear example of the power of campaign groups to act on activities that cause harm in distant countries.

Italian company Ferrero, maker of Nutella and Ferrero Rocher, said that it uses only segregated palm oil certified by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), meaning that products are produced solely with oil produced sustainably and ethically.

United States food firm Kellogg's, bowing to public pressure, has also pledged to buy only palm oil from plantations that do not destroy rainforests in order to cultivate oil palms.

Seventy-five per cent of the palm oil Nestle UK uses is from plantations certified by the RSPO, while 25 per cent is bought via GreenPalm, a scheme that involves sustainable producers.

Consumer goods firm Unilever, acting on the demands of tens of thousands of consumers, is committed to purchasing all of its palm oil from sustainably produced sources by the end of this year.

This goes to show that when both consumers and final producers present a united front, their concerted effort will be effective in countering the negative externalities of palm oil production.

Maria Loh Mun Foong (Ms)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 26, 2015, with the headline 'United front needed on sustainable palm oil'. Print Edition | Subscribe