Palm trees are replacing rainforests to keep up with palm-oil demand. (Photo: Corbis Images)
Lipsticks and orangutans have an unfortunate link: palm-tree forests, which provide palm oil for the manufacturing of lipsticks. Because of that demand, rainforests in Indonesia — the habitats for the apes — are being cleared, often burned, to make way for palm-tree farms, wanted in the production of beauty items including cosmetics, shaving gels, shampoos, and face washes. It’s all led to the deforestation of 76 million acres in Indonesia, and with it, the loss of countless endangered orangutans.
Now, two years after many of the world’s major brands declared “no deforestation” policies, Greenpeace has decided to check in with 14 of those companies to see what changes they’ve made. And while it found varying degrees of headway, most are moving “far too slowly,” the environmental group has declared, with giants Colgate-Palmolive and Johnson & Johnson among those with the worst performance so far.
“Palm oil can be grown responsibly without destroying forests, harming local communities, or threatening orangutans,” said Annisa Rahmawati, of Greenpeace Indonesia, in a press release about the just-released scorecard. “But our survey shows that brands are not doing enough to stop the palm oil industry ransacking Indonesia’s rainforests.”
The 14 companies Greenpeace looked at for palm-oil policies were Colgate-Palmolive, Danone, Ferrero, General Mills, Ikea, Johnson & Johnson, Kellogg, Mars, Mondelez, Nestle, Orkla, PepsiCo, P&G, and Unilever.
None of the companies surveyed, Greenpeace found, is able to say with any certainty that there is no deforestation in their palm oil supply chain. And most companies are unable to say how much of their palm oil comes from suppliers that comply with their own sourcing standards. Only one of the 14 companies surveyed (Ferrero) can trace nearly 100 percent of its palm oil back to the plantation it is grown on. The worst of the bunch, the findings claim, are Colgate-Palmolive and Johnson & Johnson, for failing to keep the “no deforestation” promises they made.
Colgate-Palmolive responded to Greenpeace’s findings in a statement provided to Yahoo Beauty. “We’re proud of our goals to fight deforestation and our progress towards them, including working with the Forest Trust and the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), and purchasing certified oils and GreenPalm Certificates that together contributed nearly $8 million to support sustainable palm oil production since 2013,” it said. “We are targeting over 75 percent certified mass-balance oils in 2016 and are committed to achieve our goals for a deforestation-free palm oil supply chain within four years, including working with Greenpeace and others on tracking to the plantation the source of these products.”
The RSPO is an industry association that certifies palm oil grown in an environmentally and socially responsible way, which accounts for 21 percent of the global palm oil supply.
But rather than buying the certified sustainable palm oil, Greenpeace noted, companies including Colgate-Palmolive and PepsiCo rely on GreenPalm for their sustainability credentials — an independent program that’s similar to purchasing carbon credits, allowing companies to pay for certificates and then claim sustainability credentials. The money from certificate sales goes to support sustainable palm oil cultivation. But, the Greenpeace report calls these “false solutions” and instead urges companies to purchase oil not linked to deforestation.
Still, Greenpeace noted in its score, “it was clear that the companies we spoke to had good intentions. Some are making a concerted effort to create change on the ground. At the same time,” it noted, “major brands are still a long way from being able to demonstrate that the palm oil they buy is not driving deforestation in Indonesia. Most do not anticipate being deforestation-free until 2020. This is nowhere near urgent enough, given how rapidly Indonesia’s forests are being converted to palm oil plantations.”