Papua's HCS forest destruction remains connected to Unilever

(foresthints.news) - The supply chains of giant multinational consumer goods company Unilever are still engaging with mills owned by PT ANJT, an Indonesian-listed company which continues to expand its new palm oil plantations by clearing relatively intact forests in West Papua province.

This is the third in a series of news reports from foresthints.news, the previous two of which exposed the ongoing connection between Unilever’s supply chains and both the removal of the habitat of the critically-endangered Bornean orangutan as well as the widespread destruction of Indonesian peat forests.

Clear warnings

Almost four years ago, in July 2014 to be precise, the clearing of high carbon stock (HCS) forests largely scattered among two of ANJT’s new palm oil concessions was commenced despite clear warnings from Jakarta-based forestry research NGO Greenomics Indonesia, as was reported at the time by mongabay.com.

Just less than a year later, in May 2015, Greenomics revealed the linkages of the supply chains of Indonesian Palm Oil Pledge (IPOP) signatories which were sourcing palm oil from ANJT, a practice in complete contradiction to the IPOP pledge itself. As also reported by mongabay.com, GAR and Wilmar subsequently disengaged their supply chains from ANJT.

Such steps were taken by other companies too. For example, Indonesia’s second largest palm oil producer Astra Agro Lestari (AAL) also gradually phased out the involvement of its supply chains with ANJT, as reported by foresthints.news in March last year.

However, somewhat strangely and embarrassingly, the supply chains of Unilever were untouched by the developments outlined above, notwithstanding the fact that GAR, Wilmar and Astra also count among Unilever’s suppliers.

Even more bizarrely, as of now Unilever still purchases palm oil from ANJT while this company continues to clear Papua’s forests, as demonstrated by Greenomics Indonesia (Feb 26) in the following USGS Landsat images:


Positive change?

Unilever, as posted on its website (Feb 16), asserts that ‘positive change requires bold steps’. Indeed, such steps have been taken by Wilmar, GAR and Astra by detaching their supply chains from ANJT, begging the question as to why Unilever has yet to do the same.

It also seems pertinent to ask whether and when Unilever plans to follow in the footsteps of its three suppliers. Or, in other words, when will Unilever truly deliver positive change by taking the bold step of announcing its immediate disengagement from suppliers like ANJT that are still clearing Papua’s forests?

As long as Unilever’s supply chains remain associated with the destruction of Papua’s forests, its business promise of ‘positive change requires bold steps’ is simply an empty and meaningless slogan.

Unilever’s attempt at greater transparency concerning its supply chains by releasing lists of the mills and suppliers from which it sources palm oil clearly needs to be accompanied by greater efforts from Unilever to ensure that its supply chains are not tainted by ongoing forest destruction, as is the case with its supply chain link to ANJT.

An AidEnvironment report commissioned by Rainforest Foundation Norway and published in September 2016 also highlighted the extensive clearing of HCS forests within ANJT’s palm oil concessions - a practice that Unilever should have been aware of through its Sustainable Palm Oil Sourcing Policy.

On its website (Feb 16), Unilever also emphasizes that “more work needs to be done to achieve a truly sustainable palm oil industry and we will continue our efforts to make this a reality.” If this giant corporation is being sincere, it really has to undertake measurable efforts to ensure that its supply chains are no longer connected whatsoever to companies - such as ANJT - which are clearing Papua’s HCS forests.

Furthermore, if Unilever delays too long in making a decision to disengage its supply chains from Papua’s HCS forest destruction, it would be far from “marking a major milestone in its continued drive for a more sustainable palm oil industry”.