Trying to do the right thing on palm oil

If you read this blog regularly you’re probably aware that I run the Walmart global palm oil project. What you’re probably not aware of is the significant challenge in trying to hit our goal of only using sustainable palm oil in our private label products globally by end 2015. Over the past 18 months I’ve really dug deep into the issues and identified some key barriers.

Firstly the whole certified sustainable palm oil, CSPO, system is very technical – it’s even a challenge to identify the documentation required for our suppliers to prove to us that they are using it. Furthermore the market rules of supply and demand don’t seem to be helping here.

At the start of June I said ‘goodbye’ to the Walker-Palin clan and headed to the US for nearly a month to work on solutions.

From earlier on this year it was becoming increasing clear that in many of the countries where we have stores, we simply couldn’t find any CSPO oil. It should be as simple as us asking to buy it and the market supplying it – but no! So I spent the month of May organising what turned out to be one of the most key palm oil meetings yet held in the US.

Walmart was advised by our competition lawyers that we couldn’t host and run the meeting for fear of competition concerns and I’m so grateful to Dave from WWF-US), Sabine from the Consumer Goods Forum and Anne and Desi from the RSPO for stepping up and agreeing to host the day. It really would not have taken place without their support.

So what was our key objective in Washington DC on 15th June? Simply to bring together the supply and usage side of the palm oil industry to break the deadlock of the issues above. And we really made great progress. You can see from the pictures the kind of turnout we got and attendees represented over 80% of global palm oil processing and trading, growers and billions of dollars of sales from major brands and retailers. To be specific we had names like Ahold, General Mills, Johnson & Johnson, Kraft, Nestle, Procter & Gamble, SC Johnson, Unilever and Walmart representatives from Chile, US, UK and South Africa. We also had PwC, a close partner on this project with us, AAK, ADM, Cargill, GreenPalm, Loders Croklaan, Olam, Sime Darby and Wilmar. Even campaigning and environmental bodies were represented by WWF, Environmental Defence Fund, Rainforest Alliance and World Resources Institute. And that’s not an exhaustive list!!

There were times when I was organising the meeting that I almost felt we couldn’t achieve it but I knew we’d made a real difference when I saw the announcement at the recent Rio+20 global talks. We won’t fix unsustainable palm oil overnight but I feel that we are now becoming part of the solution. Watch this space as our plans accelerate and my thanks again to everyone involved and who contributed to the meeting in Washington DC.

Thanks to WWF also for their support in providing a photographer – all photos are © Greg Snook / WWF

Posted by Julian on 13 July 2012
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