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Palm oil giant steps up supplier monitoring to stop deforestation

By Emily Beament, Press Association Environment Correspondent

The world's largest trader in palm oil has unveiled plans to step up its supplier monitoring in a "potential breakthrough" in stopping rainforest destruction.

Wilmar International, which supplies around 40% of the world's palm oil, including for popular consumer goods brands, has set out an action plan to prevent forests and peatland being destroyed for palm oil plantations.

Under the plans to implement its "no deforestation, no peat, no exploitation" (NDPE) policy, Wilmar is supporting sustainability consultancy Aidenvironment to draw up a comprehensive mapping database of suppliers.

The database will allow satellite monitoring to spot any deforestation or development on peat, with the company pledging to immediately suspend the suppliers involved, while also engaging with them to improve their operations.

Destruction of rainforests and peatlands in countries such as Indonesia and Malaysia for palm oil production releases large amounts of carbon emissions which fuel climate change, and threatens wildlife such as orangutans, campaigners warn.

The role of palm oil in deforestation has become high profile amid controversy over Iceland's Christmas advertisement, an animatronic "orangutan" taking to London's streets and campaigning by environmental groups.

Greenpeace, which has been campaigning against rainforest destruction for palm oil and targeting companies including Wilmar, hailed the announcement.

Kiki Taufik, global head of Indonesian forests campaign, Greenpeace Southeast Asia, said: "Wilmar supplies palm oil to most of the world's major food and cosmetics brands. So today's announcement is a potential breakthrough.

"If Wilmar keeps its word, by the end of 2019 it will be using satellites to monitor all of its palm oil suppliers, making it almost impossible for them to get away with forest destruction."

He added: "As the world wakes up to the climate and extinction crisis, inaction is not an option.

"Wilmar has taken an important step and must now put its plan into action immediately.

"Stopping deforestation requires industry-wide action. Other traders and brands must now follow with credible plans to map and monitor all of their suppliers.

"Equally important is action to end exploitation and human rights abuses in the palm oil sector."

Announcing the move, Wilmar's chief sustainability officer Jeremy Goon said: "We remain steadfast in our commitment to our NDPE policy and this new enhanced plan is part of our sustainability strategy as we strive towards a supply chain free of deforestation and conflict."

Eric Wakker, co-founder of Aidenvironment Asia, said: "Companies in the palm oil supply chain will now gain better visibility into the plantation companies they source from in terms of their operational locations and especially their compliance with the NDPE policy.

"It will also allow companies to act faster against suppliers found to be involved in deforestation and peatland development."

Wilmar called on environmental groups and other industry players to step up the pressure on non-compliant suppliers to commit to and implement policies to stop rainforests and peatland being destroyed and exploitation occurring.