Fall of the Oil Curtain: Palm Oil Manifesto Group Announce Forest Clearing Moratorium

September 19, 2014 | 4:35 pm
Calen May-Tobin
Former contributor

The late summer and fall of 1989 marked the beginning of the end for the Soviet Union and communism in Europe. Mass movements of citizens in Poland, Hungary, Romania, and East Germany forced those governments to loosen their grip and open the gates (literally at times) to democracy. A quarter century later, we are seeing a similar toppling of the forces which aim to keep the palm oil industry trapped behind an oil curtain of corporate secrecy and rampant destruction of our forests, peatlands, and atmosphere.

In 1989, the fall of the Berlin wall became the symbol of freedom from the destructive forces of tyranny.

In 1989, the fall of the Berlin wall became the symbol of freedom from the destructive forces of tyranny. Unknown photographer, Reproduction by Lear 21

In the past year we have seen a wave of companies adopt deforestation-free commitments. This includes household names like General Mills, Hershey’s Chocolates, Kellogg’s, Procter & Gamble, and Colgate-Palmolive as well as three of the largest traders of palm oil, Wilmar International, Cargill, and Golden Agri Resources, which together represent well over half of the global palm oil trade. This week alone saw announcements from Dunkin’ Brands, Krispy Kreme, and ConAgra Foods.

But it was an announcement today from the Sustainable Palm Oil Manifesto (SPOM, not to be confused with James Bond’s soviet nemesis SMERSH) group that represents perhaps the final hammer blow to the old regime’s destructive way. Earlier this summer I wrote about the SPOM’s efforts to pass off greenwashing as a step forward for the environment. Most egregious was the group’s decision to continue clearing forests as they worked out their own definition of what is and isn’t forest. Well, this week SPOM members Asian Agri, IOI Corporation Berhad, Kuala Lumpur Kepong Berhad, Musim Mas Group and Sime Darby Plantation, some of the world’s largest palm oil growers, announced that they would immediately stop clearing forest as they wait for their study to be complete. These companies are the last of the old guard, and seeing them embrace deforestation-free is a major victory for our forests and our climate.

There will still be struggles ahead. It took two years from the day the Berlin wall fell until the Soviet Union officially dissolved, and likewise, we have much work ahead to cement these successes. Questions still remain about how companies will implement their agreements and how long the SPOM moratorium will last. There are a few companies along the palm oil supply chain that are still holding out, most noticeably major fast food companies like McDonald’s, Burger King, and Yum! Brands (owners of Taco Bell, KFC, and Pizza Hut). But today is a day to don your piano scarf and light up jacket and celebrate:

The oil curtain is falling and someday soon, we’ll have a little bit more freedom from deforestation.