At Waitrose & Partners we are committed to sourcing our ingredients sustainably and ethically, and have looked carefully at how best to source palm oil.
For a long time, palm oil production has been associated with negative social and environmental consequences, from deforestation to worker exploitation, and we are deeply concerned about these impacts. We believe that the most effective way to stop these issues is to be part of building a lasting solution, by helping to transform the market for sustainable palm oil around the world.
The global palm oil industry is extremely complex and an issue that requires a combined effort to solve. That’s why we work with others along the palm oil supply chain to both source certified sustainable palm oil for our own products, and to support progress towards a sustainable palm oil industry more widely.
By taking this approach, we can promote the adoption of responsible sourcing practices for palm oil globally and incentivise palm oil producers to adopt higher ethical and sustainability standards – helping to drive improvements among producers that protect people, forests and biodiversity, in the countries and places where oil palm is grown.
What we do
100% of the palm oil and palm-based ingredients in our products are certified as sustainable to standards set by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO): a multi-stakeholder organisation that convenes players from all across the palm oil supply chain to set and strengthen standards, and works towards a shared mission of making sustainable palm oil the norm.
To do this, whenever possible, we source RSPO certified palm oil that is physically traceable. For any remaining palm oil, we purchase RSPO credits from certified producers, including smallholder farmers. Buying credits supports the production of responsible palm oil, while we work with suppliers to physically certify the palm-based ingredients in products. We have done this since 2012, and our high ranking in the World Wide Fund for Nature’s “Palm Oil Buyers Scorecard” for responsible sourcing is a testament to that commitment.
While we currently certify some of our palm oil via RSPO credits, our ultimate aim is to source 100% physically certified palm-based ingredients in all our products. To ensure our progress towards this goal is transparent, we report against this target annually in our Corporate Responsibility Report.
Certification of palm oil is an essential step to help transform the palm oil industry, but we know that doing this alone isn’t enough. For this reason, we collaborate with other like-minded businesses, NGOs, government, and organisations, to tackle industry-wide challenges, and to influence global standards for sustainable palm oil. In this way, we are able to extend our impact and work to promote systemic change.
Since 2006, we’ve been a member of the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil, and via our membership of the Retailer’s Palm Oil Group (a non-competitive coalition of retail companies with a common aim of promoting the adoption of sustainable palm oil) we now have a representative on the RSPO Board of Governors. Through these memberships, we actively work to strengthen international standards and institutions for certified sustainable palm oil, and to expand their uptake.
Waitrose & Partners is also a member of the Retail Palm Oil Transparency Coalition, a group of retailers working together to manage issues that go beyond the RSPO standards. As a part of this coalition, we are working to develop new tools that will empower all retailers to hold palm oil importers accountable to their zero deforestation commitments.
We know that, despite all of these measures, there will always be more work to be done to arrive at a future where sustainable production and sourcing of palm oil has become business, as usual, the world over. Waitrose & Partners is committed to continuously improving and to working with our suppliers and with others towards this end.
Alternatives to palm oil
As required by labelling standards, we clearly differentiate between types of oils in the ingredients list of our products, including palm oil. We have done this since 2006. However, we do not believe that eliminating palm oil and palm-based ingredients from products is the best way to solve the problems that are associated with the industry. This is a view shared by organisations such as WWF and the Orangutan Land Trust.
The latest evidence suggests that the outcome of eliminating palm oil from products and replacing them with other vegetable oils could simply displace tropical deforestation to new locations, resulting in little or no overall benefit for biodiversity or for the climate. This is because palm oil produces about 4-10 times more oil per hectare than any comparable crop, and so is very efficient. A switch to using less productive oil crops would, therefore, require more land overall to meet the world’s demand for vegetable oils, and is expected to cause at least as much deforestation in other tropical and biodiverse areas.
Similarly, switching to other oils would not help to address human rights issues in the palm oil industry. Most certified sustainable palm oil is sold in Europe or North America, but together these only accounted for around 16% of the global palm oil market in 2014. Because of this, removing palm oil from products wouldn’t lead to changes in its production in countries such as Indonesia or Malaysia. Instead, palm oil would be sold in other markets that will place lower or no ethical and sustainability demands on the way that it is produced.
Also important is that millions of people and smallholder farmers work in the palm oil sector, which plays an important role in economic development and the reduction of poverty. In Indonesia and Malaysia, over 4 million people earn their living from palm oil production. Stopping the production of palm oil altogether would create problems for these people who support their families by working in this industry.