Under pressure to prove its standards are more rigorous than the Round Table on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), Nestlé is gambling on transparency to convince sceptics. It plans to make information obtained from a satellite monitoring service, including evidence of deforestation, available on the company’s website next year.
The company plans to use imagery from the Starling satellite monitoring service to observe its palm oil suppliers and address deforestation linked to their mills. From March 1, 2019 onwards the company intends to make its suppliers’ adherence (or non-adherence) to Nestlé’s no-deforestation policyexternal link available to the public on a Transparency Dashboard published on its website. The format of the information has yet to be decided and will be determined by the analytics furnished by Starling.
“Our motto is to have a dialogue first with the aim to convince our suppliers to improve. At the same time, if they say no we will blacklist them,” Benjamin Ware, Nestlé’s global head of responsible sourcing told media representatives, including swissinfo.ch, at a press event in London earlier this week.
Nestlé has already made use of Starling to help identify and blacklist ten of its palm suppliers this June who were removed from its supply chain at the end of September (DTK Opportunity, Korindo Group, Indonusa, Olmeca REPSA, Pacific Inter-link HSA, PTT Green Plc, Salim Group/Indofood, Noble, Posco Daewoo and Cilandri Anky Abadi). However, evidence showing bad practices were not made public.
Starling incorporates high-resolution radar and optical satellite imagery to offer real-time monitoring of land cover changes and forest cover disturbances at resolutions between 10m to 1.5m. The system can detect forest cover loss of 1ha onwards.
Nestlé is still in the process of obtaining data on palm oil plantation boundaries of its suppliers that is necessary to link deforestation with a specific mill. The food giant plans to monitor 100% of its palm oil supply chain by satellite by the end of the year.
Nestlé suffered a recent setback when its membership to the RSPO was suspended due to disagreements on approaches to source sustainable palm oil. It was readmitted after agreeing to source 100% RSPO certified palm oil by 2023 but wants the body to upgrade its standards to include Free, Prior, Informed Consent (FPIC) of local communities, protection of peatlands and mangroves, and staying clear of High Conservation Value (HCV) areas.
“If this doesn’t happen Nestlé will not necessarily leave the RSPO. It is still a unique forum to have a dialogue with all stakeholders including suppliers we have blacklisted,” says Ware.
Investment in Starling is an attempt by the company to meet its fast-approaching deadline to prove it is deforestation-free by 2020. Currently, Nestlé claims around 58% of its palm oil supply chain is deforestation-free. Third-party audit firms like SGS, Bureau Veritas or Intertek will independently verify if the Swiss multinational has achieved its targets or not. The company is also looking into blockchain technology to keep tabs on its palm oil supply chain.
“Ultimately, it is consumers who will judge us. The only way to get unbiased verification is through transparency by publishing the data we have,” says Ware.