The palm oil scandal: Boots and Waitrose named and shamed

Retailers complicit in environmental damage caused by industry, World Wide Fund for Nature says

A A A

Most British manufacturers and retailers including Boots, Morrisons and Waitrose have done little to limit the environmental damage done by the production of the world's cheapest vegetable oil, according to research published today.

In a survey of leading European food and household firms, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) said that only Sainsbury's, Marks and Spencer and a handful of other companies had made substantial progress towards sourcing sustainable palm oil.

Continental retailers came out worst in the survey of 59 firms, with many French, German and Dutch chains making no effort to prevent the huge problems caused by the oil's production.

Palm oil is found in chocolate, biscuits, cereals, soap, shampoo and dozens of other products, but is also widely used as a bio-fuel for cars and power stations. While providing much needed income for developing countries, it has led to severe deforestation, human rights abuses and loss of endangered wildlife in Malaysia and Indonesia.

Orangutans, the arboreal great apes now restricted to the islands of Borneo and Sumatra, are threatened with extinction because of the loss of their habitats. Deforestation – of which palm oil is the biggest cause in Indonesia and Malaysia – also generates 20 per cent of global climate change emissions.

The WWF disclosed that 40 of the 59 companies had not bought any oil certified sustainable by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (Rspo) – which sets environmental standards for the £16bn-a-year industry, the most important of which is a ban on planting new oil palms in virgin forests.

Of 25 UK companies, 14 had not bought any Rspo oil – Aldi, Associated British Foods, Croda international, Boots, Warburtons, Britannia Food Ingredients, Waitrose, Morrisons, Jordans Ryvita, Northern Foods, Reckitt Benckiser, Co-op, Premier Foods and Tesco. Out of a maximum of 29 points, WWF scored them between 0 and 16.

However, seven British firms were among the best 10 performers Europe-wide, including Sainsbury's, Marks and Spencer and Cadbury. Among foreign companies, Nestlé, ranked mid-table, this week committed to switching to 100 per cent Rspo oil by 2015.

The WWF said it hoped the naming and shaming would raise awareness of palm oil's environmental damage and encourage companies to act. Presently, companies have bought only 19 per cent of the 1.3m tonnes of certified oil.

The WWF believes palm oil will grow in importance in coming years, because production is forecast to rise by up to 10 per cent annually and the only place palm oil can be grown is in the tropics, home to the world's great rainforests.

"The top-scoring companies have shown what's possible, with some buying substantial quantities of certified oil, but now it's a question of whether the majority will follow," said Adam Harrison, WWF's senior policy officer for food and agriculture. "If they do, it will transform the market, giving producers the confidence to grow more sustainable palm oil. If they don't, there will be grave consequences for the environment."

Waitrose said it recognised the importance of the issue and expected to make progress in the next 12-18 months, while Morrisons said: "We are working with our suppliers to ensure palm oil used as an ingredient in our own label products comes from sustainable sources."

Lidl said it was working towards securing a sustainable supply by 2015, while Warburtons said that in addition to joining the Rspo it would take advice from the WWF on sustainable sourcing. Boots said it used only a small amount of derivatives that were not commercially available, "hence our score in this report which we do not feel reflects our commitment to this subject".

Justin King, chief executive of Sainsbury's, which sources sustainable oil for its fish, biscuits and soap, said: "Much more work now needs to be done, and it is vital that other retailers and food manufacturers follow our lead to ensure that the rainforests are preserved for future generations."

The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil

* Established in 2003, the RSPO aims to stop environmental damage from palm oil. But not enough companies are paying the extra 10 to 20 per cent per tonne for this greener supply.

* By mid-2009, certified plantations were able to produce 1.75 million tons – one third of the EU's palm oil use. By this month, only 200,000 tonnes had been traded – 5 per cent of Europe's annual consumption.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
peopleMathematician John Nash inspired the film Beautiful Mind
News
Richard Blair is concerned the trenches are falling into disrepair
newsGeorge Orwell's son wants to save war site that inspired book
Life and Style
Audrey Hepburn with Hubert De Givenchy, whose well-cut black tuxedo is a 'timeless look'
fashionIt may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
Arts and Entertainment
The pair in their heyday in 1967
music
Life and Style
fashionFrom bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine