Kellogg, the multinational food company, has pledged to work with suppliers to make sure the palm oil it uses in its products comes from plantations that uphold its commitment to protect forests and peatlands, as well as people's rights.
Kellogg said on Friday it will require all global palm oil suppliers to trace palm oil to independently verified plantations, and comply with the principles of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) by the end of 2015, or be working to close any gaps identified in their plans by then.
"As a socially responsible company, traceable, transparent sourcing of palm oil is important to us, and we are collaborating with our suppliers to make sure the palm oil we use is not associated with deforestation, climate change or the violation of human rights," Diane Holdorf, Kellogg Company's chief sustainability officer, said in a statement.
Kellogg, which describes itself as "a very small user of palm oil", began responsibly sourcing palm oil in 2009. All the palm oil it has used since 2011 contains at least some certified palm oil or is offset through "GreenPalm" certificates, which are sold to manufacturers by RSPO-certified growers, the company said.
Palm oil is used in a huge range of consumer products, from food and fuel to beauty products and cleaning agents, meaning that demand for palm oil has risen fast.
According to the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), growing demand is driving increases in deforestation, which accounts for 10 percent of the emissions that cause global warming. Clearing forest for plantations also destroys trees that are home to endangered species and a resource for forest communities, the U.S.-based UCS said.
Sharon Smith, campaign manager with UCS's tropical forest and climate initiative, welcomed the Kellogg announcement, especially the inclusion of peatlands and forests that store high levels of carbon.
"Their efforts to source sustainable deforestation-free palm oil will help pull the industry towards palm oil that is deforestation-free," Smith said in a statement.
"If companies start demanding palm oil that doesn't contribute to deforestation, isn't grown on peatlands and doesn't exploit human rights, palm oil producers on the ground will start to provide a better product. This better oil will ultimately protect our environment by reducing emissions."
Kellogg, owner of the world-famous Kellogg's cereal brand, said it is also supporting the Consumer Goods Forum (CGF) pledge to achieve "zero net deforestation" by 2020, which means that any forest lost is replaced.
The UCS said it hoped Kellogg's commitments would soon become industry requirements, but asked whether businesses are acting quickly enough to help curb global warming.
"So far, Kellogg's is riding high," Smith said. "But the real question is whether the company is moving fast enough and aggressively enough to make this commitment a reality in time to address a rapidly changing climate?"
In December, Wilmar International, one of the world's biggest palm oil producers, agreed to ensure the oil it supplies would not result in any additional loss of rainforests. Retail giants Nestle and Unilever have also committed to tracking their palm oil supplies.
The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, which runs a certification scheme, was set up in 2004 to try to deal with problems linked with palm oil production, including deforestation. But critics say it has been less effective than hoped, both in curbing loss of tropical forests and ensuring the rights of indigenous people living in those forests.