Voice of America (Washington, DC)

Africa: World's Largest Palm Oil Company Commits to No Deforestation

A new policy that looks to transform the palm oil industry was recently announced. Asia's leading palm oil producer, Wilmar International, said it has committed to producing only products that are free from links to deforestation and abuse of human rights. Palm oil is a $50-billion a year commodity that is found in half of all consumer goods. It is in chocolate, baked goods, soaps, detergents, and many more household items. The production of it has caused the clearing of tropical forests for plantations, threatening ecological systems as well as forest animals.

In addition clearing land for plantations has threatened the livelihoods of millions of people who depend on forests for survival.

Scott Poynton, is a forest conservationist and supply chain expert. He founded the international nonprofit, The Forest Trusts, TFT, an organization that works with businesses to help them produce more responsibly.

He said the announcement by Wilmar International is a massive one and a huge commitment that will take a lot of work to implement.

"There's never been such a strong commitment in the palm oil industry before, and not only in the palm oil industry, but in the agribusiness sector such as soy, or beef, or any of these sectors. There's never been an announcement equivalent to this. So it's really of global significance," explained Poynton.

The forest conservationist highlighted that the commitment to "No Deforestation, No Peat, No Exploitation, No High Carbon Stock... " sets a benchmark for the entire industry, which includes palm plantations in Africa.

"The Wilmar International is the largest palm oil company in the world, and controls about 45% of the global trade in palm oil. Wilmar itself has interests in Africa, and one of the responses to the announcement has been some concern expressed by some civil society organizations, NGO's, however, Wilmar's response is look we are going to roll out these policies across our global operation base which includes Africa," said Poynton, who added this is good news for Africa because there is interest in expanding palm oil production on the continent.

"Palm oil is an opportunity to bring in socio-economic development but we want to do that without trashing and destroying the environment, or people's lives," pointed out Poynton. And he said the transformative policies to protect forests and people will help ensure that any new development that comes about will be done in the right way.

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