Shame companies into using sustainable palm oil, says minister

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Multinational companies should be “named and shamed” into sourcing sustainable palm oil to protect the world’s tropical rainforests, says Britain’s Energy Minister, Joan Ruddock.

In an interview with the The Independent, Ms Ruddock, who saw the devastation of virgin rainforest first hand on a trip to Indonesia last week, urged companies to improve their sourcing of the world’s cheapest vegetable oil.

She backed the new league rankings introduced by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), which last month ranked 59 European retailers and manufacturers on their degree of involvement with the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (Rspo).

Among 14 British firms that had not bought any Rspo oil were Boots, Waitrose, Morrisons, the Co-op, and Tesco.

While avoiding the mention of the worst performing companies, Ms Ruddock praised the best, Sainsbury's and Marks & Spencer, and suggested that rather than introducing a labelling scheme for sustainable palm oil NGOs should focus on the reputatations of corporations and "show consumers which are supporting sustainability and which are not.”

Asked if she supported WWF’s ‘naming and shaming,’ she replied: “Yes, I do and I want to encourage all companies using palm oil in their companies to work with the Rspo to support the production of sustainable palm oil.”

She said she had been “quite depressed” by the blackened degraded landscapes she had found in heavily logged or burnt jungles, and could see several forest fires raging in the distance.

The Government, she disclosed, is funding a climate change standard for palm oil plantations to run as a voluntary scheme alongside the Rspo programme.

Environmental groups Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace complain the Rspo is full of loopholes and works with companies which have only partly certified their plantations.

Ms Ruddock nonetheless believed the scheme represented the best chance of saving further destruction of primary forests which leads to the eviction of native peoples, loss of wildlife and greenhouse gas emissions.

“I think what matters is with the Rspo is there’s a spectrum of companies and that have both the sustainable and unsustainable views but it’s a unique combination of companies that are in production,” Ms Ruddock said.

“So I think this is a body that we very much want to support. Of course we want to move further and faster on their commitment to sustainable growing - and we want to get the criteria improved.”

Britain is spending £165m on a scheme to pay developing countries to keep their forests, REDD, which stands for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation, which will be discussed at the Copenhagen summit on climate change next month.

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