Collaborating for sustainable palm oil: Cargill gives perspective

By Lucy Whitehouse contact

- Last updated on GMT

Collaborating for sustainable palm oil: Cargill gives perspective
Ahead of this week’s 2017 European edition of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, held in London, we caught up with Cargill, one major player in personal care set to participate.

Cargill has recently begun to push into the personal care ingredients market. Would you say the food or the beauty industry is doing more to tackle issues related to palm oil production?

Several food and beauty brands have made commitments to ending deforestation in their supply chains, and Cargill is in a position to help them source ingredients that are either RSPO-certified and/or meet their sustainability goals.

Cargill partners with the downstream industry, including our customers and consumer brands, to engage suppliers in assessments. Our goal is to determine areas of improvement and necessary capacity building while working on addressing risks at the landscape level, such as smallholders’ peat management practices.

Some of the downstream companies in the industry are also becoming more actively involved in forums such as the Sustainable Landscapes Working Group or the RSPO Human Rights Working Group to better understand the realities on the ground and pro-actively participate in the development of potential solutions.

In your opinion, what are the key challenges that need to be tackled when it comes to palm oil production and use in consumer goods? Who can tackle them, and how?

We are working to address both environmental and social challenges to improve palm oil production. One way to do this is through traceability. Palm oil is very difficult to trace back to where it is grown since 40% of production comes from smallholders who work through intermediaries such as Fresh Fruit Bunch dealers or traders.

We’ve been heavily invested in this process of improving traceability, engaging with suppliers and farmers to increase transparency across our supply chain. This requires cooperation and collaboration with partners across our industry and earning the trust of growers to create scalable solutions.

Through these efforts and dialogue with supply chain partners, it seems that one of the most effective and efficient approaches is working at the landscape level to coordinate with government and engage mills and growers, rather going plantation by plantation.

We are also seeing growing attention around the social issues in the palm industry. We have to protect forests and peatlands, but we also have to ensure fair labor practices, inclusion of smallholders and respect for indigenous rights.

A key part to ensuring implementation of better labor practices is the improvement of guidelines for monitoring our own operations and our suppliers while also advancing government lobbying and partnerships. In some countries regulations are strong but enforcement varies, while in others there are gaps in protection of workers’ rights.

Addressing these gaps requires dialogue with governments to improve the situation and ensure an even playing field. In addition building capacity of growers is critical if they are expected to go above and beyond legal requirements. All of us in the supply chain have a role in supporting and resourcing this capacity building at the early stages until we reach a tipping point.

What steps has Cargill been taking to respond to these challenges?

Cargill is committed to building a 100-percent transparent, traceable and sustainable palm oil supply chain by 2020 and remains actively involved in the RSPO through working groups and dialogues, and we’ve increased our participation in other groups addressing issues in the broader supply chain, such as the Sustainable Landscapes Working Group.

We work on many different levels, both proactively and reactively. We proactively identify the risk in our supply chain and work with relevant suppliers to address those risks by equipping them with tools and resources to improve their practices. We also co-fund activities, such as high carbon stock assessments, for suppliers to implement new approaches in their own operations and integrate such principles into their own policies.

Lastly, we work to develop solutions where none currently exist. These include improved, practical responsible management guidelines for smallholders who operate existing plantations and approaches for identifying alternate land uses. We also reactively engage our suppliers through our grievance process, providing support through dialogues with management to align principles, assessments, verification and training.

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