For an invisible ingredient – albeit one that’s in around 50% of common consumer products from margarine and moisturiser to sweets and soap – palm oil certainly hit the headlines in 2016, and will no doubt continue to do so next year.
2016 saw some of the world’s biggest palm oil growers and traders - IOI, Wilmar International and Olam – become the subject of various NGO investigations into their unsustainable business and sourcing practices from illegal deforestation, fires on areas of protected peatland and child labour.
It has been said that sustainability is heading towards a pre-competitive state just as food safety already has. Food companies don’t earn extra brownie points with consumers for boasting that their food is safe to eat and won’t make you sick. This is unlikely to happen anytime soon but the continued focus on the current unsustainable sourcing of palm oil will hopefully push industry to make meaningful changes to the supply chain.
Perhaps 2017 will see the emergence of palm oil growers and traders seeking to ‘start afresh’ with ethical palm oil production. Natural Habitats and its Palm Done Right movement are already doing this, but can the volumes they supply ever match global demand?