April 17, 2018

Iceland, Greenpeace and GAR

( - Iceland’s recent decision to stop using palm oil in its brand products from January 2019 was made because the British supermarket chain feels that palm oil production may cause tropical rainforest destruction in Southeast Asia. This is tantamount to Iceland declaring that its business will continue to cause the rainforest destruction until the end of December this year.

John Sauven, Executive Director of Greenpeace UK, in a written response to Iceland’s move posted on the Greenpeace UK website (Apr 10), stated among other things that the British supermarket chain’s decision is a direct reaction to the failure of the palm oil industry to clean up its act, especially with regard to forest destruction. 

This would mean, referring to Sauven’s statement, that Golden Agri-Resources (GAR) / Sinarmas palm oil group (as part of the palm oil industry) has also failed to clean up its act. As such, the engagement between Greenpeace and GAR - publicly announced in early February 2011 - also represents a real failure. 

In other words, the engagement between Greenpeace and GAR has not succeeded in positioning the latter as a responsible palm oil industry leader. Moreover, Greenpeace should have explained this lesson learned to Iceland.

The following photos depict parts of GAR palm oil plantations in Indonesia’s West Kalimantan province, taken during the first few months of this year, which would have been sources of palm oil for Iceland if the Greenpeace-GAR engagement had not failed:

The team conducted an analysis of this issue by referring to various relevant sources, the substance of which is contained in this news report. 

Progress report  

At the time its progress report was released in late December 2014, Greenpeace was still declaring that it was playing a role in helping GAR move towards responsible palm oil practices by developing methodologies and monitoring progress.

The Greenpeace report outlined numerous areas in which GAR has made strong, mixed and poor progress, concluding that “the company still has much work to do if it is to ensure that its palm oil is truly responsible.”

According to the Greenpeace progress report, “important progress has been made to end deforestation within GAR’s supply chain.” However, a number of other reports indicated that GAR and other major Indonesian and Malaysian palm oil players were still linked to deforestation and peat destruction, even after 2014.

Just over six months after its progress report was published, in May 2015, Greenpeace commented on the progress of the implementation of GAR’s Forest Conservation Policy, stating that “it (GAR) is seriously falling short in the policy implementation.” 

It can therefore be concluded that Greenpeace’s target in engaging with GAR to position it as an industry leader was clearly not achieved. Accordingly, Greenpeace’s publicly declared role in helping GAR move towards responsible palm oil practices can also be regarded as a failure.

Failures highlighted in recent report 

Furthermore, in its March 2018 report, Greenpeace included an assessment that GAR’S supply chain data and engagement remained poor, essentially admitting that there was no guarantee the company was undertaking responsible palm oil practices.

Once again, this constitutes proof that the goal of engaging with GAR to make it a palm oil industry leader has amounted to nothing.

Supposing the engagement between Greenpeace and GAR, through the launch and implementation of the Forest Conservation Policy, had succeeded in positioning GAR as a palm oil industry leader, Iceland would certainly not have needed to rush to announce its palm oil free decision because it would still have been able to source palm oil from GAR.

Indeed, Iceland would definitely have been able to buy palm oil from GAR's palm oil plantations, seen in the following photographs, if Greenpeace’s engagement with GAR in upholding its Forest Conservation Policy and securing its place as a palm oil industry leader had been a success. This, unfortunately, is not the case.


Questions for Greenpeace 

In view of the fact that Iceland’s palm oil free decision was made after Greenpeace alerted the UK supermarket chain about the devastating impact on Southeast Asia’s rainforests due to the growing demand for palm oil, (Apr 16) asked Greenpeace two questions concerning its engagement with GAR.

Firstly, did Greenpeace not recommend palm oil from GAR to Iceland considering that GAR has been assisted by Greenpeace in implementing its Forest Conservation Policy from early February 2011? 

Secondly, wanted to know from Greenpeace, given that GAR announced efforts to clean up its supply chains in March 2014, whether it is appropriate for Iceland to purchase GAR palm oil.

By the deadline given to Greenpeace by, no responses to these questions had been forthcoming.

In closing, bearing in mind the relevance of the issue of forest fires as expressed in the Iceland video, Greenpeace should also explain to the UK retailer the factors behind the fires that burned more than 2,500 hectares of peat forests in a GAR concession located in Indonesian Borneo, which is currently under rehabilitation.