3/28/2014 UPDATE: Unilever – Oh Yeah, They Lie!

Unilever Australasia

Unilever Australasia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

May 2012:  After reporting that Unilever was ahead of its own schedule to source 100% of its palm oil from sustainable sources by the end of 2012, I received this today:

Dear friends of the rainforest,   one thousand people on the Indonesian island of Borneo have lost their forest. It was illegally cleared by the corporate group IOI that supplies Nestlé, Unilever and Neste Oil with palm oil. All three companies publicly pride themselves for their so-called “sustainability”.   Our partner Nordin, head of the organization Save Our Borneo (SOB), has collected plenty of watertight evidence against the criminals. He is preparing to file a case and the local government is backing him. However, to prevent more damage elsewhere, the palm oil Mafia’s profit stream has to be cut off. This is where Nordin needs our support.   Please call on Nestlé, Unilever and Neste Oil to cancel their business relationship with IOI.”

We who care f-d up.  We trusted them.  Now they must face the wrath and worldwide public relations nightmare for lying to us. Go to Rainforest Rescue’s website and sign their petition.  Write to Unilever, Nestle and Neste Oil — and call their shit out.  Without public relations nightmares corporations (and countries) won’t do anything.  Look at Indonesia’s reversal on the Tripa forests and peat swamps. Petition:  https://www.rainforest-rescue.org/mailalert/873?mt=1375 U

Updated 6/11/2012:  I received a response to my post on Unilever’s Facebook page regarding the Rainforest Rescue allegation:

 As part of its sustainable growth strategy, Unilever is committed to sourcing 100% sustainable palm oil by 2012, three years ahead of initial 2015 target. In April 2012, Unilever announced a new commitment to source all its palm …oil from certified traceable sources by 2020. We are concerned of hearing about allegations of illegal deforestation in Kalimantan, especially as Unilever announced its support on a moratorium on the destruction of rainforest and peat land areas in Indonesia to grow palm oil in May 2009. We are strongly convinced that the structural problems of the palm oil industry can only be resolved through constructive dialogue and a tight cooperation between all of stakeholders involved. With reference to the report by Rainforest Rescue we understand that legal action is already in progress and will we monitor this process. Bumitama is an RSPO member since 2007. As part of RSPO’s programme to drive sustainability in the palm oil industry, the NGO has the option to lodge a grievance through the RSPO. Unilever is not sourcing from the plantation mentioned in the allegations [Bumitama] and is absolutely committed to sourcing 100% sustainable palm oil.

I’d like to believe them.  But why don’t they just say they’re cutting all ties with this company who’s been accused of wrongdoing too?  That gives me pause.

UPDATE:  3/26/2014:  Just when you think that Unilever has turned a corner and was leading the charge to do the right thing toward sustainable palm oil (a myth like creationism?), this news comes out:


We’ve just learnt that Unilever is supporting a dirty industry attempt to continue the destruction of Southeast Asia’s rainforests. If it gets its way, orangutans could keep dying in the name of “sustainable” palm oil.

The consumer giant is attempting to ignore scientists’ work and rewrite the rules on what counts as forest that should be spared from destruction, backed by the worst palm oil producers. It’s a direct challenge to the strong scientific standards that groups from SumOfUs to Kellogg’s to Mars have aligned behind. If we don’t stop it, this could amount to a license for deforestation in the name of conservation, and undermine the huge progress we’ve made to save the orangutans.

Unilever is the world’s largest palm oil user, and it’s done the right thing in the past to support rainforest protection. It can do the right thing again, and we know that it’s sensitive to consumer pressure. Right now Unilever thinks it can push this greenwash behind closed doors. But if we can put this into the public light, it won’t be worth the risk for Unilever to continue.

Sign the petition now to tell Unilever not to greenwash rainforest destruction.

It doesn’t have to be this way. We’ve made tremendous progress in getting big palm oil companies and a dozen of the world’s biggest consumer companies, including giants like Kellogg and Mars, to commit to end deforestation in their supply chains. Every week, more companies are joining up and pledging to do the right thing. Up until now, even Unilever has played a key role in promoting strict criteria for responsible palm oil production.

Crucial to the rainforests’ protection is the scientific work that’s been done to define what counts as a forest that should be spared from the bulldozers when companies go deforestation free. Specifically, companies have pledged to protect “High Conservation Value” or “High Carbon Stock” forest — based on a common understanding of what this means. The combined pressure from groups like SumOfUs and other NGOs has worked. Companies from Kellogg’s to Mars to Wilmar — the world’s largest palm oil trader — have accepted this common, strict approach and definition to ensure deforestation-free palm oil.

But now Unilever is participating in an industry attempt to redefine what counts as “High Carbon Stock” forest. Only the worst industry players are participating actively in this greenwash — companies like IOI and Cargill. If they get their way, companies could keep pushing bulldozers into some of the world’s most important rainforests even while claiming to be deforestation free. Even worse, they are refusing to stop any deforestation until the “study” is complete. And now Unilever is joining them. 

It’s clear that industry will use this exercise to loosen the definition what forest they will spare from the bulldozers. If they do, it could open the door for continued destruction for what they want to call “sustainable” palm oil. It’s a desperate attempt to continue business as usual and avoid growing consumer demands for deforestation-free palm oil.

Unilever doesn’t have to be a part of this. We need to show Unilever that we won’t tolerate this greenwash.  (All emphasis theirs.)

Here’s the petition site:  http://action.sumofus.org/a/unilever-palm-oil/?akid=4545.713134.vFTFN9&rd=1&sub=fwd&t=3

UPDATE 3/28/2014:  Because of the above, I posted a hassling note on Unilever’s Facebook page.  Here’s the canned response I received very quickly:

Hi XXXX, we share your concerns regarding the need to protect rainforests. That is why we are actively campaigning to halt deforestation. We and a number of other partners are moving swiftly together to achieve this goal by creating one independent, scientific, peer-reviewed global standard which is good for forests, orangutans and for local communities. If you want to know more about our commitment to sustainable palm oil, read more here: http://unilever.com/sustaina…/sustainablesourcing/palmoil/

Hmmm.  “Creating one independent, scientific, peer-reviewed global standard…”  I don’t like the sound of that if it means rewriting the definition of “sustainable”.  So I posted again on their Facebook page:

According to NGOs, the standard you are proposing to use apparently dilutes the meaning of what’s “sustainable.” That’s the point. YOU GUYS USE THE MOST PALM OIL IN THE WORLD.   LEAD!!!!

I have yet to receive a reply.

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4 Responses to 3/28/2014 UPDATE: Unilever – Oh Yeah, They Lie!

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  3. Jon says:

    I’ve seen the petition, and this has got me interested in the subject. What I have not seen is any mention of this greenwashing or supporting evidence any where else online which is not just referencing back to this petition. What is not clear is who started this petition and what source they are basing their claims on. Have you read and can point me to any reliable sources that support these latest greenwashing claims? I don’t wish to vilify the wrong company, if they are actually taking positive steps while others (like P&G) are behind and rightfully deserve the criticism.

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