Major Global Brands Are Destroying Indonesian Rainforest at Record Rates

According to a new investigation by Greenpeace International, major global companies such as Unilever, Nestlé, Colgate-Palmolive, and Mondelez are responsible – via their palm oil producing partners – for destroying rainforest in Indonesia twice the size of Singapore in under three years.

An aerial photo shows excavator clearance for palm oil plantation on the secondary dry land forest at concession PT Agrinusa Persada Mulia of GAMA Group in Kweel village, Muting subdistrict, Merauke district, Papua province. Photo: © Jurnasyanto Sukarno / Greenpeace

In the study, Greenpeace International investigated the damage created by 25 major palm oil producers in their supply for some of the world’s biggest consumer brands. The new study found that:

  • 25 palm oil groups had cleared over 130,000ha of rainforest since the end of 2015
  • 40% of deforestation (51,600ha) was in Papua, Indonesia – one of the most biodiverse regions on earth and until recently untouched by the palm oil industry
  • 12 brands were sourcing from at least 20 of the palm oil groups: Colgate-Palmolive, General Mills, Hershey, Kellogg’s, Kraft Heinz, L’Oreal, Mars, Mondelez, Nestlé, PepsiCo, Reckitt Benckiser and Unilever
  • Wilmar, the world’s largest palm oil trader, was buying from 18 of the palm oil groups

The investigation exposes the total failure of Wilmar International, the world’s largest palm oil trader, to break its links to rainforest destruction. In 2013, Greenpeace International revealed that Wilmar and its suppliers were responsible for deforestation, illegal clearance, fires on peatland and extensive clearance of tiger habitat. Later that year, Wilmar announced a groundbreaking ‘no deforestation, no peat, no exploitation’ policy. Yet Greenpeace’s analysis found that Wilmar still gets its palm oil from groups that are destroying rainforests and stealing land from local communities.

“The trail of palm oil destruction leads all the way from the rainforests of Papua, Indonesia to our shopping carts in the United States. Household brands like Unilever, Nestle, Colgate-Palmolive, and Mondelez have promised to only buy palm oil from companies that are not destroying rainforests or exploiting communities – but our researchers discovered that they’re breaking this promise,” said Greenpeace USA Palm Oil Campaigner Diana Ruiz.

In addition to deforestation, the 25 individual cases in the report include evidence of exploitation and social conflicts, illegal deforestation, development without permits, plantation development in areas zoned for protection and forest fires linked to land clearance. It is also the most comprehensive assessment of deforestation in Papua, Indonesia.

“The good news is consumer companies have the power to solve the problem they created. Wilmar is the world’s largest palm oil trader, supplying big brands with palm oil from forest destroyers. Companies like Nestlé and Colgate-Palmolive need to drop Wilmar until it can prove its palm oil is clean and not destroying forests that are vital for solving climate climate,” Ruiz said.

Palm oil impacts on environment, people and climate:

  • Half of the Bornean orangutan population has been wiped out in just 16 years, with habitat destruction by the palm oil industry a leading driver. More than three-quarters of Tesso Nilo national park, home to tigers, orangutans and elephants, has been converted into illegal palm oil plantations. Globally, 193 species classified as Critically Endangered, Endangered, and Vulnerable are threatened by palm oil production.
  • The plantation sector – palm oil and pulp – is the single largest driver of deforestation in Indonesia. Around 24 million hectares of rainforest was destroyed in Indonesia between 1990 and 2015, according to official figures released by the Indonesian government [1].
  • Deforestation and peatland destruction are major sources of greenhouse gas emissions which contribute to climate change. This has pushed Indonesia into the top tier of global emitters, alongside the United States of America and China.
  • Plantation development is a root cause of Indonesia’s forest and peatland fires. In July 2015, devastating blazes spread in Sumatra, Kalimantan and Papua. These fires produced a haze that affected millions of people across Southeast Asia. Researchers at Harvard and Columbia Universities estimate that the smoke from 2015 Indonesian fires may have caused 100,000 premature deaths. The World Bank calculated the cost of the disaster at US$16bn.
  • Wilmar International and other palm oil companies are regularly accused of exploiting workers, children and local communities.

 Buyers of products from these manufacturers are urged to reconsider what they are buying -- and the damage it is creating in critical natural habitats everywhere.