On 11 December 2009 Unilever announced suspension of its contracts with one of Indonesia’s largest palm oil companies. Reportedly valued € 30 million per annum, the contracts will be put on hold until the supplier can prove that its plantations are not contributing to the destruction of high conservation value forests and are not encroaching on peat lands.
In the process leading up to this decision, Unilever asked Aidenvironment Asia to verify the validity of allegations made by Greenpeace in its Burning Up Borneo report that several suppliers of palm oil continued to clear tropical forests and peat lands.
The verification work was undertaken in consultation with all parties and included field visits in the presence of supplier company staff. The study shows that specific allegations made by Greenpeace were founded on unreliable baseline maps and that the quantitative claims made in the report therefore did not stick.
Nonetheless, the verification study confirmed that between 2000 and 2007, Unilever’s suppliers which operate plantations in Central Kalimantan did contribute to the opening up of (deep) peatland, deforestation of orang utan habitat and that inadequate measures were in place to prevent land fires on the plantation estate.
The study also found that both suppliers and auditors insufficiently complied with the requirements laid down by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). But the findings were not all bleak: the verification work showed that differentiation between supplier performance on sustainability and transparency was emerging and that several companies had started proactive implementation of RSPO standards.