Migros, Switzerland's largest supermarket chain, has become the first European retailer to commit itself to buying palm oil exclusively from ecologically sound sources, reports the Financial Times.
Tropical forests are being devastated by the rapid growth in demand for a vegetable oil used in everything from margarine to detergents and cosmetics.
The company, which has annual sales of around $12bn (EUR13.7bn) a year, announced this week that it would aim to modify the production of palm oil so that it will no longer pose a threat to tropical forests.
Migros, has joined with World Wide Fund For Nature (WWF) Switzerland to draw up a set of minimum environmental and social criteria for its palm oil products.
In production terms, palm oil is the world's second biggest vegetable oil after soybean oil, and it is the fastest growing. It is the most traded vegetable oil, capturing 40 per cent of global trade.
Over the past decade, production has doubled to 23m tonnes a year, with more than 80 per cent coming from Malaysia and Indonesia. There are some 10m hectares of palm oil plantations and the WWF estimates that over the next 25 years another 250 to 300m hectares of tropical forest will be converted into agricultural land.
Migros says tropical forests are being cleared on a huge scale so palm oil and other agricultural products can be grown. "Unchecked cultivation of oil palms poses a serious threat to the tropical forests, which are absolutely vital for global ecological balance," said Urs Riedener, head of food marketing at Migros.
The company, which uses 3,000 tonnes of palm oil a year, wants to ensure its supplies do not come from plantations created from recently converted natural forest. It has also set down criteria to ensure cultivation follows ecologically sound principles, conserves resources, and supports social working conditions.
Migros will retain independent auditors to assess annually whether its suppliers are meeting the criteria and its products will carry a sticker confirming that they "protect tropical forests."