Wilmar International, the world’s largest palm oil trader announced a No Deforestation Policy response to pressure from Greenpeace, NGOs and consumers around the world. The policy has the potential to be a landmark win for the world’s forests and the people that depend on them for their livelihoods.

The move came after recent criticism by Greenpeace and environmental NGOs of mainstream confectionary companies that were not meeting their responsibilities on sustainable palm oil and that Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) standards had fallen short in protecting rainforests and greenhouses gasses.

And in June, several environmental organizations and palm oil producers calling themselves the Palm Oil Innovation Group announced that they were committed to a set of standards to reduce deforestation that go beyond the requirements of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil.

Bustar Maitar, head of the Indonesia forest campaign at Greenpeace International said that Wilmar has responded to years of pressure from Greenpeace, other NGOs, and a growing movement of consumers around the world demanding clean palm oil and an end to forest destruction. “Wilmar’s commitment to No Deforestation has the potential to transform the controversial palm oil industry,” he said.

“Wilmar’s policy shows that the sector has a massive problem, and while this policy is great news for forests and tigers, its success will be judged by Wilmar’s actions to implement and enforce it. Our challenge to Wilmar is this: will it now immediately stop buying from companies such as the Ganda Group, which is closely linked to Wilmar and is involved in ongoing forest clearance, illegal peatland development and social conflict?”

Over the last seven years, Greenpeace has repeatedly exposed Wilmar’s role in gross acts of forest destruction; sourcing from national parks, destroying prime tiger habitat, sourcing from suppliers linked to orang-utan ‘graveyards’ or this year’s forest fire crisis in Sumatra, to name a few.

The palm oil sector is the greatest single cause of deforestation in Indonesia. Ministry of Forestry maps show that Indonesia is losing some 620,000ha of rainforest every year between 2009- 2011 (an area greater than the size of Brunei). Palm oil’s expansion into New Guinea and Africa is already threatening forests, sparking controversy and conflict with local communities.

Wilmar International accounts for more than a third of global trade of palm oil. Today, 85% of the world’s palm oil is produced in Indonesia and Malaysia.

At a November meeting, the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil said positive progress was being made in the uptake of RSPO certified sustainable palm oil (CSPO), with the announcement by Unilever of its commitment to purchase the GreenPalm certificates of AMANAH Independent Smallholders Association until 2018.

“This will allow the smallholders to further increase their sustainable practices and thus drive positive environmental, economic and social impact. Global confectioner Ferrero which uses about 150,000 tonnes of palm oil annually, has also indicated it was on track to 100% segregated RSPO certified palm oil by end of 2014, a year ahead of their target,” the RSPO said.

New group’s clearer guidance on growing sustainable palm oil

The Palm Oil Innovation Group, unveiled on the sidelines of a meeting of the Tropical Forest Alliance, a coalition of government leaders and companies from the Consumer Goods Forum, the innovation group (POIG) will determine production standards that will help the alliance meet the ambitious goal of eliminating deforestation from the production of soybeans, palm oil, beef and pulp and paper by 2020.

The eight initial members are social and environmental nonprofits Greenpeace, Rainforest Action Network, the World Wildlife Fund and the Forest Peoples Programme; while Daabon Organic, New Britain Palm Oil, Agropalma and Indonesia-based Golden Agri-Resources represent the producer side.

Together, they say they are promoting innovation in the palm oil industry by highlighting how companies can reduce deforestation while maintaining revenues. And they hope rising pressure from consumers who do not want products linked to forest loss will drive other producers to join them.

“It offers companies the opportunity to innovate, establish boundaries and raise the bar,” said David McLaughlin, the managing director and vice president of agriculture at the US-based World Wildlife Fund.