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Palm oil: “Act first, consumer demand will follow”

By Andrew McDougall+

06-Jun-2014
Last updated the 06-Jun-2014 at 12:36 GMT

Palm oil: “Act first, consumer demand will follow”

In order to achieve a sustainable palm oil industry and tackle the deforestation issue worldwide, actions must be taken quickly and the consumer demand will follow, says Dr Alan Knight OBE.

Speaking at the European RSPO conference in London, the Corporate Responsibility General Manager at ArcelorMittal, said that we need to tackle deforestation right away without any questions, urging companies to act.

“Don’t wait for the consumer, and don’t invest in an expensive conversation with them. If you believe in tackling deforestation enough – just do it,” he said.

Challenge

Dr Knight challenged the RSPO members to overcome tensions between growers, traders and committed buyers to make RSPO a perfectly aligned gear, and urged businesses not to wait for consumers’ demand to deliver certified sustainable palm oil.

“If we had waited for customers to ask for FSC, we’d still be at level 1.” Dr Knight also highlighted the importance of traceability, because “if you do not know where your palm oil comes from, you do not care”

Knight went on to explain that if consumers had a choice, they would choose sustainably sourced ingredients anyway, so for companies in the cosmetics and other industries it is a ‘no-brainer’.

And when looking to solve these problems there is not just one solution. There needs to be a contribution from a number of parties.

These sentiments were echoed by Dr Bayu Krisnamurthi, Indonesia’s Deputy Trade Minister, who was next to the stage, explaining that to achieve 100% internationally certified sustainable palm oil, everyone needs to work together, and this should extend to other ingredients too.

“Don’t be discriminatory. If you are going to work for sustainable palm oil, we need to make this the standard for other sourced ingredients,” he said.

‘Building a plane while trying to fly it’

Krisnamurthi likened the current situation concerning palm oil to ‘building a plane while trying to fly it’. He explained that this is the biggest challenge the industry faces as it is trying to make the industry sustainable while still sourcing and needing the ingredients.

All the speakers at the conference highlighted that action needs to be taken, as there is a lot of work to do to get the wheels in motion.

RSPO Secretary General Darrel Webber added that “much more needs to be done to create a consumer-relevant sustainable palm oil industry, and brand.”

Entitled “100% Certified Sustainable Palm Oil: Our Shared Responsibility”, the conference brought together over 300 delegates from the UK, Europe, Indonesia, Malaysia, Latin America and other palm oil producing countries to foster greater collaboration among all palm oil stakeholders and to solve the problems of unsustainable palm oil cultivation.

Palm oil, palm kernel oil, and its derivatives are used in 70% of cosmetics products.