Earthworm backs sustainable palm oil over blanket world ban

Non-profit environmental organisation Earthworm, which has worked extensively in the cocoa sector, has joined a growing list of conservation organisations backing sustainable palm oil instead of boycotting the crop, writes Neill Barston.

The environmental group is collaborating with a number of global bodies including the WWF, Conservation International, the World Land Trust and a host of leading wildlife and animal parks around the world in seeking to drive industry transition to sustainable palm oil – which is widely used within the confectionery and bakery sectors.

As Earthworm noted, palm oil produced according to the standards set by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) or Palm Oil Innovation Group (POIG), as of 2018, is required to be deforestation-free.

Manufacturers, retailers and traders all over the world have made bold commitments to removing deforestation from their supply chains. and as the organisation has observed, some are making swifter progress than others towards meeting these commitments.

Earthworm identified four key steps for delivering key improvements within palm oil, which is sourced from a number of locations including Malaysia and Indonesia, and used by major chocolate manufacturing brands.

1. Palm oil producers must stop converting forests, peatlands and other sensitive natural habitats to oil palm plantations. Instead, they should increase yields on existing plantations, and any expansion should be restricted to degraded land that is not classified as High Conservation Value or High Carbon Stock. They also need to be transparent about their production methods and avoid labour, land and human rights violations.

2. Companies manufacturing or selling products made with palm oil and its derivatives need to investigate their suppliers and only source palm oil from responsible growers, ensuring their supply chain is traceable, and communicating honestly with their customers about their progress on their journey to using solely sustainable palm oil.

3. We expect the RSPO and its members to adhere to the criteria and take action when there is evidence of non-compliance.

4. Consumers can support retailers and manufacturers which are committed to removing deforestation from their products, join social media campaigns to drive the industry in the right direction, and support conservation organisations who are working to break the link between palm oil and deforestation.

Earthworm added in a statement: “There is no denying that the rapid expansion of the palm oil industry over the last 30 years has had a catastrophic environmental and social impact across Southeast Asia, South America and Africa.

“Consumers all over the world have been horrified to learn about the destructive practices rife within the industry, and the orangutan has become an emblem for the clash between development and conservation.

“Boycotting palm oil is a legitimate expression of consumers’ social and environmental concerns, but the question we urge individuals and businesses to ask themselves is:Will this action help wildlife, forests and communities? 

“The problem with a blanket boycott is that it punishes indiscriminately. It removes the market for palm oil from those companies which are making genuine efforts and progress towards sustainability, as well as those which aren’t. And if we remove the market for sustainable palm oil, we also remove the incentive for companies to abide by the better management practices which reduce the footprint of the industry – in terms of impacts on wildlife, forests, climate and human rights,” explained the organisation, which added that a blanket ban on palm oil could have the unintended effect of making deforestation worse in driving farmers towards producing alternative, unregulated crops.

Furthermore, in its view, a ban on palm oil could also drive its price down, reducing the incentive to produce in a sustainable manner, which are central factors which it believed must be fully considered.



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