Unilever has publicly disclosed the palm oil suppliers and mills it directly and indirectly sources palm oil from, becoming the first consumer goods firm to do so.
The mapping exercise comprised 1,400 mills and more than 300 direct suppliers and its aim was to provide greater transparency in order to effectively address systemic issues associated with palm oil cultivation, such as deforestation and human rights abuse, the firm said in a 16 February statement.
“A lot of people think if you outsource your value chain, you can outsource your responsibilities. I don’t think so,” said Unilever CEO Paul Polman.
Palm oil changed hands several times in its long and complex supply chain before reaching the factories of consumer goods companies, moving from the plantation where oil palm was grown to agents who sold the fruit to mills that processed it.
“Next, it is transported via traders to refineries for further processing. Only after this point does it enter our direct supply chain,” Unilever said.
According to Unilever, disclosing its suppliers was part of the company’s Sustainable Palm Sourcing Policy, which it launched in 2013 and relaunched in 2016.
The programme helped the firm identify where the palm oil it used came from and more effectively pinpointed and addressed any possible issues together with its suppliers, NGO partners, governments and other stakeholders.
“Due to traditional commercial sensitivities and the complexity of the palm oil supply chain, it has required perseverance to get where we are now. Complete transparency is needed for radical transformation,” said Marc Engel, Unilever chief supply chain officer.
Unilever was accused, together with Pepsico and Nestlé, of being complicit in the destruction of Sumatra’s last rainforests, reported Edie in July 2017.
In June 2017, Unilever dropped Sawit Sumbermas Sarana (SWS), an Indonesian palm oil producer, from its list of suppliers after SWS was found to have breached laws restricting deforestation and peatland clearance.
Unilever is one of the founding members of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, which issues certifications to responsible palm oil producers.