Harvesting palm oil is a dirty business. Companies plow through valuable rainforest and peatlands in their quest to get at the stuff, which is used in everything from ice cream to lipstick. In the past year, Nestle, Kraft, Unilever, and General Mills have all ditched suppliers that engage in deforestation. Now, for the first time, an entire country--the Netherlands--is doing the same.
All palm oil suppliers and buyers in the Dutch market, united in the Dutch Taskforce Sustainable Palm Oil, pledged this week in a manifesto (PDF) to work collectively towards making all Dutch palm oil sustainable by 2015. The task force participants, which include the Dutch Bakery and Sweets Association, Dutch Food Retail Association, and the Dutch Food Industry Association, represent "the Netherlands-based links in the palm oil chain, namely the palm oil refiners, the various sectors processing palm oil and the retail offering consumer products that contain palm oil."
The Dutch task force plans to only purchase palm oil from Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) members to ensure the sustainability of the palm oil supply chain. The 450 members of the RSPO, an international multi-stakeholder group formed in 2004, represent almost 50% of total palm oil production. The manifesto reasons:
Thus, sustainable palm oil is amply available in the market. The responsibility for the use of sustainable palm oil lies with all the links in the chain. By founding the Task Force Sustainable Palm Oil, the various links in the chain take joint responsibility by making the RSPO principles and criteria for sustainable palm oil together. By means of their cooperation the participants hope to accelerate the transition aimed at making the mainstream palm oil market sustainable.
Consumers in other countries shouldn't expect that exported Dutch products are all made using sustainable palm oil--palm oil that has been imported and re-exported (potentially after processing) isn't taken into consideration by the task force. Still, the bold move by the Netherlands task force should serve as yet another reminder to destructive palm oil companies that their market is rapidly shrinking. If even larger countries follow the Netherlands' example, unsustainable suppliers could be shut out altogether.