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Palm oil policies improve at Swiss firms

Palm oil is a widely used ingredient in cosmetics such as lipstick

(Keystone)

Four Swiss companies have distinguished themselves on the 2011 WWF Palm Oil Buyers’ Scorecard.

The environmental organisation assessed the palm oil buying practices of 132 companies in Europe, Australia and Japan to gauge their commitment to buying and using sustainably produced palm oil.

Palm oil comes from palm trees that only grow in the tropics. It is used in a wide range of products, including margarine, baked goods, chocolate, soap and lipstick.

“Palm oil itself is not the issue – the problem is how and where it is produced,” according to the 45-page WWF report published this week.

The trouble starts when tropical forests are carelessly cleared to make way for palm oil plantations – leaving wildlife homeless and contributing to greenhouse gas emissions.

The Palm Oil Buyers’ Scorecard measures the performance of major retailers and consumer goods manufacturers in regard to their participation on and compliance with the international Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). This was the second assessment following one in 2009.

Leading supermarkets

Swiss supermarket chains Coop and Migros were among the best of the retailers, having each scored nine points – the maximum number possible. Both are members of the RSPO.

“The standards make it possible for members to purchase palm oil that has been produced sustainably. We’re convinced that such standards are a good thing in the commodities sector,” Coop spokeswoman Sabine Vulic told swissinfo.ch.

Migros spokeswoman Monika Weibel told swissinfo.ch, “The protection of tropical forests is important to us… for the required volume of palm oil, Migros buys certificates from GreenPalm, a certificate trading system.”

Also known as “Book and Claim”, the GreenPalm system is a way for businesses to support the production of Certified Sustainable Palm Oil (CSPO) even if they themselves are not actually making something with it.

Coop primarily uses this system, but has recently begun buying RSPO-certified palm oil for its ready-made dough. This oil comes directly from a certified plantation. Coop’s goal is that by 2013, this oil will account for 80 per cent of the palm oil used in its own-label products.

“By 2015 at the latest, Migros plans to procure 100 per cent sustainable palm oil with guaranteed traceability,” Weibel said.

Brownie points

Scoring eight points this time, Swiss food giant Nestlé has improved considerably since the last assessment. It is now a member of the RSPO and CSPO accounts for 25-50 per cent of the 100,000+ tons of palm oil it uses annually. Nestlé has made a commitment to switch exclusively to CSPO by 2015.

Swiss confectioner Lindt & Sprüngli also did well with a score of seven points. It plans to switch exclusively to CSPO by the end of 2011; currently, certified palm oil accounts for up to 25 per cent of what it uses.
 
“In doing well, these companies have demonstrated that, regardless of size, it is possible to be a responsible member of the RSPO,” noted the WWF report – referring to all of the companies with good marks in 2011.

But discount supermarket chains Aldi and Lidl, both headquartered in Germany, were among the companies to get a zero in the report. The names are familiar to Swiss shoppers as there are several branches scattered around Switzerland.

Neither company is a member of the RSPO, and WWF said that neither had participated in the survey.

Aldi Switzerland spokesman Sven Bradke told swissinfo.ch that he was not aware of the WWF survey, but that it was important to boost the production of sustainable palm oil.

Questioned about the scorecard by swissinfo.ch, Lidl replied via email: “Unfortunately, it was not possible for Lidl to complete the survey in time… we regret this very much.”

Lidl pointed out that it had converted – or was in the process of converting – from palm oil to sunflower or rapeseed oil for a variety of its own-label products such as breakfast cereal, cookies, cakes and frozen potato products.

It also mentioned that most of its house brand margarine was made with a blend of certified and non-certified palm oil.

Meeting targets and demand

The WWF reported that while many companies had set a target of 2015 for buying 100 per cent certified sustainable palm oil, it was concerned that they didn’t seem to be taking the necessary steps to make sure they could deliver on this goal.

“We found it very hard to get clear information about what exactly many companies are doing about sustainable palm oil, what their policies and commitments are and how quickly they are meeting their targets,” WWF stated.

Another issue is that less than half of the RSPO-certified palm oil has been bought, making it “very difficult for responsible growers… to judge whether they have made the right decisions. It also hinders efforts to persuade other growers to start certifying", WWF noted.

Yet consumer goods producers and retailers are not the only ones responsible; WWF has also called on consumers to take action. It recommends that they buy products from companies that have demonstrated a commitment to using sustainably produced palm oil.

It also suggests that they ask both manufacturers and retailers to source CSPO palm oil and its products.

“A portion of our clients are aware of the palm oil problem and have asked our customer service for the corresponding products. With the possibility of identifying the use of sustainable palm oil on the package, we offer a good service for concerned customers,” Coop’s Vulic said.

WWF

The WWF was founded by a small group of conservationists in 1961.

Originally called the World Wildlife Fund, the WWF-World Wide Fund for Nature has worked to protect tigers in the Indian jungle and save parts of the Amazon rain forest from tree felling.

Initially, its actions centred on buying land to create nature reserves but more recently the organisation has worked as a lobby group applying pressure on governments to change their environmental policies.

end of infobox

Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO)

The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) was formed in 2004 with the objective of promoting the growth and use of sustainable oil palm products through credible global standards and engagement of stakeholders.

The seat of the association is Zurich while the secretariat is currently based in Kuala Lumpur with a satellite offi­ce in Jakarta.

end of infobox

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