Palm oil is the world’s most widely used vegetable oil with a broad range of applications across Food, Household, and Beauty categories and growing usage within biofuels. Because of its neutral flavour and aroma and great cooking properties it is incredibly useful and versatile. Another benefit is its ability to remain solid at room temperature without undergoing hydrogenation that makes it a healthier choice compared with many other vegetable and animal fats.
Palm oil has the highest productivity of all vegetable oils needing less than half the land required by other crops to produce the same amount of oil. This efficiency and adaptability generated an enormous increase in demand over the last few decades that led to unacceptable practices such as high levels of tropical deforestation and peatland drainage, and human rights abuses on plantations and mills. Although deforestation rates are slowing, palm oil related land use change remains a major contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions.
However, palm oil has brought prosperity to many regions and continues to provide a pathway from poverty for millions of people in developing countries. Palm oil’s very high reliance on smallholder production (c. 40% of global palm oil comes from small farmers) makes finding the right solutions to palm oil disputes as much a priority for human development as environmental protection.
Palm oil is produced exclusively in tropical regions where according to the International Institute of Sustainable Development (IISD)
89% of global production comes from Indonesia and Malaysia. India and China comprise 30% of consumption, Malaysia and Indonesia 27% and the EU 13%. The vast majority of demand for palm oil certified by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO)
comes from the EU. At the moment only 20% of palm oil production is RSPO certified and there is a need for markets beyond the EU to demand sustainable palm oil if certification is to have a widespread impact on practices. RSPO criteria aims to guarantee conservation of natural resources and biodiversity and support local communities and is the most used certification programme in the palm oil industry.
Commitments and targets
M&S is committed to sourcing palm oil in a socially and environmentally responsible manner. Our goal is to ensure that all palm oil used in our products is produced by companies that don’t contribute to deforestation and that ensure local communities and workers in the palm oil industry are protected.
We aim to ensure zero deforestation from the use of palm oil in the production of M&S products by 2020.
We are concerned about the role of palm oil expansion in the loss of the world’s tropical rainforests and about the impact of deforestation on biodiversity, endangered species and climate change. Palm oil development can undermine the rights of indigenous communities to convert or not convert their land, and there is evidence of human rights abuse within palm oil plantations and mills.
Nonetheless we recognise the enormous contribution palm oil can make to social development and support solutions that seek to find a balance between achieving conservation outcomes while maximising human livelihood improvements. We can best protect our natural environment by ensuring communities and countries derive benefit from conservation efforts.
Our supply chain is complex. We don’t own farms or factories and don’t purchase ingredients directly. Most of the ingredients that go into our products are sourced in a global market. That said, in comparison to many others in our industry we are also a relatively low user of globally traded palm oil. Palm oil is often less than 1% of the finished product and many of our suppliers use only a few tonnes of palm oil annually. Nonetheless we expect every party in our supply chains to contribute towards promoting sustainable palm oil.
M&S engages with a wide range of multi-stakeholder and industry platforms to ensure our knowledge remains up to date in this rapidly evolving landscape, and to ensure that the characteristics of retail supply chains are recognised so our sector can play a full and active part in addressing the impacts of palm oil production.
We’re also engaging in global efforts to tackle deforestation. We support the Consumer Goods Forum’s resolution to achieve zero net deforestation by 2020. In addition, we are a signatory of the UN Climate Summit New York Declaration on Forests
which aims to cut natural forest loss in half by 2020 and strive to end it by 2030. We are also a member of the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on Forests
which sought to influence the Conference of the Parties in Paris (COP21) on tackling commodity-driven deforestation.
Our approach to sourcing more sustainable palm oil is as follows: