Online protest drives Nestlé to environmentally friendly palm oil

Food giant bows to Greenpeace campaign and vows to cut its 'deforestation footprint'

A A A

Nestlé, the world's biggest food manufacturer, says it will make the palm oil in its best-selling chocolate bars more eco-friendly, after a guerrilla campaign against it on the internet.

The Swiss confectionery-to-coffee giant said it was inviting a not-for-profit group to audit its supply chain and promised to cancel contracts with any firm found to be chopping down rainforests to produce the vegetable oil, which it uses in KitKat, Aero and Quality Street.

The concession followed a three-month campaign by the environmental group Greenpeace, which led to Nestlé being attacked on social networking sites such as Facebook and YouTube. One million people watched Greenpeace's spoof advert for KitKat, despite its being taken off YouTube temporarily after a legal threat.

As well as illustrating the vulnerability of multinational companies to new media campaigns by NGOs which can galvanise individuals in a way that was impossible before the creation of the internet, the campaign also illustrated the intense environmental controversy surrounding palm oil.

Thousands of hectares of rainforests in Malaysia and Indonesia have been cleared to make way for oil palm plantations, depriving tribes of ancestral lands, increasing climate change emissions and killing rare animals such as the Sumatran tiger, sun bear, clouded leopard and pangolins. Campaigners have particularly stressed the damage done to orangutans, a close relative of man which lives only on the heavily deforested islands of Borneo and Sumatra.

Since The Independent disclosed the presence of palm oil in 43 of the UK's top-selling grocery brands, companies such as Nestlé, Marks & Spencer, Cadbury and Mars have committed to moving to a sustainable supply.

But Nestlé had been a relatively slow mover, promising only to meet the latest acceptable date of 2015 set by the World Wildlife Fund for moving to supplies certified sustainable by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil.

On 17 March, Greenpeace began a campaign against Nestlé, launching an early morning protest at its UK headquarters in Croydon, Surrey, and posting its one-minute Have a Break? "advert" on the internet. It showed an office worker biting into a KitKat containing an orangutan finger, which dripped blood onto a computer keyboard.

"Indonesian forests are being torn down to grow palm oil, which is the vegetable fat of choice for companies worldwide, including Nestlé," Greenpeace complained. "But while many companies such as Unilever and Kraft are making efforts to disassociate themselves from the worst practices of the palm oil industry, Nestlé has done diddly squat."

The action group claimed it had uncovered evidence that the Indonesian palm oil supplier Sinar Mas – which it said supplied Nestlé – had been involved in continuing deforestation. Nestlé denied it bought oil from Sinar Mas but said it would ask its supplier, Cargill, to investigate the claims. That was not enough to stop the campaign.

Members of the public posted angry messages on Nestlé's Facebook page – substituting the word Killer for KitKat; anti-Nestlé campaign groups such as Baby Milk Action and Nestlé Critics took up the cause; and hundreds of thousands of people watched the grisly Have a Break? video.

On 15 April, Greenpeace disrupted Nestlé's annual general meeting in Lausanne. Protesting "orangutans" met arriving shareholders and, inside the building, activists hidden in the ceiling unfurled banners with the message: "Nestlé, give the orangutans a break".

Apparently braced for the protests, the company's chairman, Peter Brabeck, defended the company's position, saying Nestlé only used 320,000 tonnes of palm oil a year, slightly under one per cent of global production and less than the 500,000 tonnes used for bio-fuel in the UK and Germany. To applause, rather than blaming Nestlé for deforestation in Indonesia, he blamed a "political decision" to use palm oil as a bio-fuel. The protests continued.

On Monday, Nestlé announced what Greenpeace hailed as a "positive step" – the auditing of its supply chain by the Geneva-based Forest Trust. The company said: "By setting critical requirements for its procurement process and checking compliance with our supplier code, Nestlé wants to ensure that its products have no deforestation footprint." The company intended to source 18 per cent of its palm oil from "sustainable sources" this year and 50 per cent by the end of 2011.

Scott Poyntor, the Forest Trusts's executive director, said the commitment was a "game changer". "For the first time, a global company is saying it doesn't want its products to have a deforestation footprint, and is taking action to live up to its words," he said.

Greenpeace welcomed the agreement, which it warned it would closely monitor. "Online and offline the message to Nestlé has been strong and relentless over the past two months," it told its supporters.

"All of it – from protesting orangutans on the streets to Facebook status updates – has brought us to today's commitment."

Who's going green – and when

The dates by which firms say they will have all their palm oil supply certified sustainable by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil.

2011 United Biscuits

2012 Unilever, Waitrose

2014 Sainsbury's, Cadbury

2015 Marks & Spencer, Mars, Co-op, Tesco, Asda, Nestlé, Procter & Gamble, Allied Bakeries

No date Morrisons

Arts & Entertainment
A stranger calls: Martin Freeman in ‘Fargo’
tvReview: New 10-part series brims with characters and stories

News
peopleActress speaks out against historic sexual assault claims, saying things have 'gone quite far now'

Arts & Entertainment
Shaun Evans as Endeavour interviews a prisoner as he tries to get to the bottom of a police cover up
Review: Second series comes to close with startling tale of police corruption and child abuse
Sport
Raheem Sterling and Luis Suarez celebrate during Liverpool's game with Norwich
football Another hurdle is out of the way for Brendan Rodgers' side
VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Life & Style
Guests enjoy food and cocktail parings by Chefs Jimmy Bannos, Jimmy Bannos Jr, Daniel Rose and Mindy Segal with mixologists Josh King and Alex Gara at Bounty & Barrel: A Jack Daniel's Single Barrel Dinner Series at Heaven on Seven on April 9, 2014 in Chicago, Illinois.
news Sprinkle Palcohol 'on almost any dish' for 'an extra kick' firm says...
Arts & Entertainment
Charlotte Brontë, the English novelist, poet and the eldest of the three Bronte sisters who lived into adulthood, has been celebrated with a Google Doodle depicting her most famous novel, Jane Eyre.
arts + ents "Reader, they doodled her".

Arts & Entertainment
Schwarzenegger winning Mr. Universe 1969
arts + entsCan you guess the celebrity from these British Pathe News clips?
News
Portrait of Queen Elizabeth-II by David Bailey which has been released to mark her 88th birthday
peoplePortrait released to mark monarch's 88th birthday
Arts & Entertainment
The star of the sitcom ‘Miranda’ is hugely popular with mainstream audiences
TVMiranda Hart lined up for ‘Generation Game’ revival
Life & Style
The writer, Gerda Saunders, with her mother, who also suffered with dementia before her death
healthGerda Saunders on the most formidable effect of her dementia
Arts & Entertainment
Oxegen in Ireland has been axed as promoters decide it is 'no longer viable'
arts + ents Promoters have axed the event as it is 'no longer viable in current form'
News
The troubled star is set to give fans the biggest insight into her life away from the headlines
people Star made the announcement during the final episode of the programme, entitled Lindsay
News
YouTube clocks up more than a billion users a month
mediaEuropean rival Dailymotion certainly thinks so
Arts & Entertainment
The original design with Charles' face clearly visible, which is on display around the capital
arts + ents
Arts & Entertainment
‘Self-Portrait Worshipping Christ’ (c943-57) by St Dunstan
books How British artists perfected the art of the self-portrait
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Geography Teacher

£130 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Ilford: Secondary Geography Teacher Lo...

Do you want to work in Education?

£55 - £70 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: Are you a dynamic and energeti...

SEN Teaching Assistant

Negotiable: Randstad Education Group: SEN TAs, LSAs and Support Workers needed...

Private Client Senior Manager - Sheffield

£50000 - £60000 per annum: Pro-Recruitment Group: The Sheffield office of this...

Day In a Page

Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter: The man who could have been champion of the world - and the Bob Dylan song that immortalised him

The man who could have been champion of the world

Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter and the Bob Dylan song that immortalised him
Didn’t she do well?

Didn’t she do well?

Miranda Hart lined up for ‘Generation Game’ revival
The Middle East we must confront in the future will be a Mafiastan ruled by money

The Middle East we must confront in the future will be a Mafiastan ruled by money

In Iraq, mafiosi already run almost the entire oil output of the south of the country
Before they were famous

Before they were famous

Can you guess the celebrity from these British Pathe News clips?
Martin Freeman’s casting in Fargo is genius

Martin Freeman’s casting in Fargo is a stroke of genius

Series is brimming with characters and stories all its own
How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

Cannes Film Festival

Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

The concept album makes surprise top ten return

Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
10 best baking books

10 best baking books

Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

Jury still out on Pellegrini

Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players