When major brands like Nestlé or Unilever make ‘Zero Deforestation’ commitments, consumers may feel reassured that the products they buy in supermarkets have not contributed to tropical deforestation. But it’s easier to make the pledge than prove it is done.
First off, the companies selling products containing paper-pulp and palm oil have to make sure they know exactly where their products come from – not only which countries, but which companies, which local processing mills, and which plantations? This is the challenge of traceability and requires companies clarify exactly which products are entering their supply chains. Anyone who has visited the tropics and seen the myriads of logging trucks emerging from forested areas, the rafts of timber floating down rivers and streams of lorries loaded with oil palm fruits immediately knows what a hard task that is. Then, secondly, the companies have to decide: what is ‘deforestation’? It is not generally taken to mean that no single tree can be felled. So how do the plantation companies decide where to draw the line: what land clearance is acceptable and what is not?
A significant milestone towards a widely accepted definition was achieved in November when proponents of two alternative procedures for deciding what a ‘High Carbon Stock forest’ is agreed on a merged method. The agreed method allows companies in the tropics to zone lands and decide what vegetation can and what can’t be cleared, and requires them to take into account indigenous peoples’ and local communities’ rights and livelihoods. The agreed procedure will also adopt clear ‘Social Requirements’, to be observed by all plantation companies feeding into these supply chains. These requirements are going through their second round of editing within FPP, after receiving comments from all the main interested parties. During 2017, they will be piloted by leading companies with the aim of developing more detailed guidance to help companies, communities and other affected people apply these principles on the ground. The goal is to transform commodity production so that buyers really can be sure that supermarket products are not linked to deforestation, drained peatlands and exploited communities.
By Marcus Colchester