Thursday, 7 January 2010

Letters: Unilever’s palm oil purchases

Thu, 01/07/2010 10:20 AM | Reader's Forum The Jakarta Post

In response to The Jakarta Post’s editorial (Dec. 21) on Unilever’s decision to suspend purchases of palm oil from the Sinar Mas Group, it is difficult to understand why Unilever, which chairs the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), does not actively promote certified palm oil.

The certification requires palm oil producers to apply strict principles on environment responsibility, conservation of natural resources and biodiversity in their operations.

Sinar Mas, as the largest palm oil producer in Indonesia, has long been accused of illegal deforestation. The fact that none of its plantations are certified proves the certification process is stringent and not just a formality.

Unilever claims to be “committed to the highest sustainability and environmental practices”.

However, it only achieved 15 percent certified palm oil for 2009 and commit 100 percent only by 2015.

Unilever definitely can be more ambitious, as there is still 1 million tons of certified palm oil unsold.

Unilever didn’t explain why literally none of the certified palm oil it purchases is used in its Indonesian factories. Indonesia is now the eighth most important consumer market for Unilever worldwide.

It does not help that Indonesia is the largest palm oil producer in the world. Commercial reasons are often used to explain why very little certified palm oil is purchased. This argument does not really hold water.

Despite the world financial crisis, Unilever Indonesia’s net profit increased by 9.2 percent and 15.5 percent in first half and third quarter of 2009 respectively.

It may give the wrong impression that Unilever only wants to appease European NGOs and is not really concerned about the environment.

Karsten van Cook