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Myths of the Round Table: Just because they’re a member doesn’t mean they’re a knight

Hello friends!

I really hope this is what RSPO meetings look like

If you’ve been reading my most recent posts, you may have noticed that I’ve been trying to figure out who to trust in determining what contains Certified Sustainable Palm Oil, and what does not. Well I don’t know if it’s fate or serendipity or just plain luck, but something seems to be trying to help me along.
Whilst casually trawling through my twitter feed, I noticed a tweet posted by the Ethical Consumer Guide. It linked me to an article published on Rainforest Action Network titled The Great RSPO Membership Myth: Why Buying from RSPO Members Is Meaningless.
Although published in March 2011, this article cleared up a lot of things for me. Not only does it highlight the major difference between those who use Certified sustainable palm oil, and those who are members of the Round Table of Sustainable Palm Oil. It seems like companies, such as Wilmar, are using this to appear environmentally credible.

Here’s a letter written by the Rainforst Action Network to the CEO of Girl Scout Cookies America, who has been using their membership to gain environmental credibility.

Although Girl Scout cookie bakers have RSPO membership, RSPO membership does not provide any assurance that palm oil supplied by member companies is sustainable. Member companies have been documented clearing forest, peatland and critical wildlife habitat while ignoring human rights — all of which are prohibited in the RSPO principles and criteria. In essence RSPO membership does not ensure that deforestation, orangutan extinction, and climate change are not found in Girl Scout cookies.

Who would have thought those bite sized treats distributed by overly adorable girls abounding with freckles and pigtales and good intentions, could be causing so much harm!

This inspired me to have a look at some of the companies on my Products List, and try to figure out if they’re talking the talk.
Wilmar: Member of the RSPO. Doesn’t use CSPO

Fonterra: Member of RSPO. Doesn’t use CSPO

Kraft: Member of RSPO. Doesn’t use CSPO

Mars: Member of RSPO. Doesn’t use CSPO

Goodman Fielder: Member of the RSPO. committing to be using CSPO by 2015

Arnott’s Australia: Member of RSPO.  ommitting to be using CSPO by 2015

Unilever: Member of RSPO.  ommitting to using CSPO by 2015

Well, I certainly won’t be taking ‘But we’re members of the Round Table’ without the appropriate grain of salt.

Although this has made me a lot less confused, it is still a little worrying that the RSPO allows members that are still destroying rainforest and causing the deaths of thousands of Orangs. I know it is important in this kind of organisation to have members from all sides of the industry, but surely companies that are illegally logging protected forests, such as Wilmar, or are using their membership status to try and confuse consumers into thinking they are ethically sourcing palm oil, should not have a place at the table.

What are your thoughts on this issue? Do you think the RSPO should be more strict about who they give membership to?
*EDIT*

I have since been informed that both Mars and Kraft have sustainable palm oil plans in place, and will hopefully reach their goals of using 100% certified sustainable palm oil by 2015.

I did a little more research and found this statement made by Mars. Although they do talk a lot about buying palm oil off members, which we know to be irrelevant if it isn’t certified, at least they have acknowledged this too. Let’s hope they can walk the walk.

We use only 0.2 percent of global palm oil supplies . However, it is present in many of our products, and we are committed to sourcing it more sustainably.

Mars is a member of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), a nonprofit membership organization that promotes the growth and use of sustainable palm oil. Through the RSPO, we are working to reduce the impacts of palm oil production and address concerns about the industry. While some environmental organizations have questioned the effectiveness of the RSPO, it is the only body that brings together all the relevant industry players, and we are committed to helping it create significant and lasting long-term change.

Currently, we only source palm oil from other RSPO members, although their product is not necessarily certified. We have begun purchasing certified palm oil for our European business and have set a target to use only 100-percent RSPO-certified sustainable palm oil by 2015 

Kraft also appears to be implementing changes to its palm oil supply chain; the Kraft Board has been requested by the shareholders to compile a sustainability report by December 2012. Hopefully, all of the following factors that were lacking from the current sustainability policy will be met.

• A company-wide policy on deforestation
• The percentage of purchases of Palm Oil, beef, soya, sugar and paper that are sustainably sourced, with clear goals for each commodity
• Results of audits to ensure that suppliers are in compliance with Kraft’s forestry goals  
• Identifying certification systems and programs that the company will use to ensure sustainable sourcing of each of these commodities. 
We shall see.

Thankyou Andy for pointing this out to me! This is one of the reasons I’m writing this blog, to learn these things and to keep the discussion going.

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Tripa Update

I decided to do a little bit of investigating of the Tripa situation whilst at work the other day, and was almost serendipitously presented with an email doing just that! An email had been sent around highlighting ways in which we could help the cause, and I found two petitions it mentioned particularly interesting.

Currently there is a petition circulating on change.org, urging the Indonesian government to properly protect the Tripa Peat Swap Reserve, and the orangutans who call it home. I was particularly moved by the description of the

Over the last week a man made firestorm swept through a huge area of the remaining peat swamp forests of Tripa, devastating Critically Endangered Sumatran orangutan (Pongo abelii) to the very brink of extinction, possibly within months.

Critically important, the Tripa peat swamp forests of Aceh, Indonesia, have long been recognized as a UNEP/UNESCO Great Ape Survival Partnership Priority Site for Great Ape Conservation.

In the early 90’s these forests are estimated to have contained between 2,000 and 3,000 but today only a few hundred survive, and if the current rate of forest destruction and burning continues, even these will be gone completely within a matter of months.

All the result of the illegal activities of a small number of rogue palm oil plantation companies.

Of one of these companies, PT. Kallista Alam, is actually right now being challenged in court, as it clearly contravenes National Spatial Planning Laws and the Indonesian President’s moratorium on new permits in primary forests and peatlands, supported by Norwegian taxpayers money.

The whole of the Tripa peat swamps lie within the Protected Leuser Ecosystem, a National Strategic Area for Environmental Protection in Indonesia’s National Spatial Plan established in 2008.

If this legal initiative fails, and if the current rate of destruction is not halted IMMEDIATELY, there will be no more forest and no more orangutans (and many other legally “protected” species) in Tripa by the end of 2012. This represents the death nell for this important orangutan population, the final nail in the coffin.

An Illegally Lit Fire in the Tripa Peat Region
Photo Courtesy of The Guardian UK

Sounds awful doesn’t it? They still need quite a few signatures to reach their goal of 15,000, so if this causes you to feel any of the countless negative emotions it evoked in me, please, sign the petition! You can already see how much it is helping on their update feed.

The second petition is one that targets palm oil buyers, specifically Goodman Fielder, and although it’s outcome has already been realised, I think it deserves a mention because of the clever name, and the incredible back story of its instigator. “Meadowlea, We Don’t Think You Ought To Be Congratulated”, a Community Run petition, is aimed at Goodman Fielder, Australia’s leading importer of fats and oils, to commit to 100% certified sustainable palm oil in their products by 2015. This petition was created by Chloe Nicolosi, who, at the tender age of twelve, stood before the Senate Committee at Parliament House and stated her case for why the Truth In Labelling Bill should be passed. I don’t remember what I was doing at twelve, but it certainly wasn’t campaigning for the protection of rainforests and the survival of an endangered species (I’m pretty sure I was watching NickCartoons on ABC and writing passionate love letters to Zack Hanson. I all of a sudden feel very much behind the eight ball).

Photo Courtesy of Orangutan.com

Chloe currently has 428 signatures, just 72 shy of her 500 mark. However, Goodman Fielder released a statement on their website in February this year, which states:

Goodman Fielder Limited shares community concerns regarding the ecological and environmental impacts of palm oil production in some areas of South East Asia, such as Borneo and Sumatra, and is pro-actively responding to these concerns.

The company supports the production of sustainable palm oil and is a member of the industry group, the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). Goodman Fielder commenced purchasing Green Palm certificates in September 2010, and intends to cover all palm oil used in the company’s Australian and New Zealand retail branded products by 2015. Our Integro Foods division has established a sustainable palm oil working group, which is investigating the feasibility of sourcing and supplying certified sustainable palm oil (CSPO) through alternative RSPO-endorsed supply chain models, such as Mass Balance and Segregated CSPO (see www.rspo.org).

To the best of the company’s knowledge, any palm oil contained in our products in Australia and New Zealand is sourced from legally developed plantations and not from any party that, as far as we are aware, has engaged in illegal deforestation.

This is great news! The only thing that worries me about this statement is the “best of the companies knowledge” part. If you read my post that features the “Sustainability Lie” video, you would have read how Wilmar is claiming to use Certified Sustainable Palm Oil, whilst illegally clearing prime rainforest for palm oil plantations, and lots of other nasty things. Wilmar currently owns 10% of Goodman Fielder; perhaps this “to the best of the companies knowledge” part is a way to cover their butts on this issue? I guess it’s something to think about.

Photo Courtesy of Orangutan.com

So please, if this is an issue that concerns, upsets, or angers you, please sign the petitions and help these fabulous people in their fight to save this beautiful species from extinction!

A Letter to … Arnott’s Australia

This is the big one!! Arnotts makes the products that I had the hardest time giving up, including my beloved Mint Slice, so I really hope that they not only get back to me, but they have some good new for me, too! If you would like to send a letter to Arnotts, that would be great! You can do so by leaving them feedback here, or send them a more formal hard copy letter! We might not be able to make them good for our health, but together we can try to make them better for the world!

To Whom It May Concern

Hello! My name is Tegan Webb, and I am contacting you, the makers of many of my favorite biscuits, including Tim Tams, Caramel Crowns, Royals, and Mint Slice, to not only commend you on a delicious products, but I was hoping you could answer a couple of my questions regarding this particular product.

I have recently embarked on a personal quest, of sorts, to only buy products that contain sustainably sourced palm oil, for ethical reasons. As I’m sure you would have heard, palm oil plantations are the major course of deforestation in many parts of South East Asia, and as an animal lover this concerns me a lot. I did notice that they contain Vegetable Oils and or Fats, and as palm oil is not required to be labelled I wanted to ask you if this palm oil sustainably sourced in accordance with the Round Table of Sustainable Palm Oil Criteria and, if not, would you ever consider switching to the use of sustainable palm oil?

Thankyou again for your fabulous food products, and I really hope the answer to my questions is yes, because I don’t want to have to give them up!

Thankyou for your time, I hope to hear from you soon! You can contact me at my email tewebb23@gmail.com or at the address provided above.

Yours Sincerely

Tegan Elizabeth Webb