Blog: Dean BestUnilever in the palm oil spotlight

Dean Best | 11 December 2009

Palm oil continues to be a monkey on the back of many food manufacturers and retailers.

The issue has grabbed the headlines in recent weeks, not least because of the WWF's report into how companies were sourcing palm oil - a study that led to embarrassment for some.

It also led to companies issuing public announcements on how they would source palm oil more "sustainably".

Around the publication of the WWF report came a series of announcements from companies including Nestle, United Biscuits and Premier Foods in a bid to demonstrate that they are looking to source palm oil in a way that will not destroy rainforests and endanger wildlife.

Mark Price, boss of upmarket UK retailer Waitrose, even admitted the WWF report had "toughened our resolve".

Today (11 December), Unilever sought to demonstrate just how committed it is to sustainable palm oil by ditching a supplier over accusations of deforestation.

As a founder of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), Unilever has been at the forefront on trying to developing a greener commodity.

However, such a fact will matter little to consumers who are becoming aware of the link between the palm oil in their foods and environmental destruction in Asia. 

Unilever has attempted to portray itself as decisive through its decision to suspend supplies from the palm oil producer at the centre of the allegations but every time a food company, particularly a multinational, is linked to damage to the environment, damage is done to its brand and green credentials.

The issue of palm oil is complex but is increasingly in the public eye. The rewards are there for those brands and retailers that can demonstrate that they too have the same concerns as consumers. 


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