Piloting new models to address risks to land rights in the palm oil industry
Palm oil is the most widely consumed vegetable oil on the planet, with global use more than doubling over the past 15 years. Currently contained in approximately half of all consumer goods, this high-yielding agricultural commodity is found in packaged foods like margarine, ice cream and chocolate, as well as non-food products like body lotion, soap and biofuel.
The production of palm oil, while highly efficient as compared to all other oil crops, requires considerable swaths of land to be cleared for palm nurseries and plantations. Industry analysts have estimated that, in order to meet projected demand growth, global palm oil production “will need additional land that would be equivalent to the total area of Bangladesh” by 2050.
Land expansion is therefore key to the sector’s ability to keep up with this rapid increase in global demand. As a result, businesses along palm oil supply chains have long faced significant public criticism around the industry’s contributions to deforestation, biodiversity loss, climate change and other environmental impacts. The sector has also been linked to significant human rights violations related to communities’ land and natural resource rights, food insecurity and land conflict. More recently, the production and processing of palm oil has been connected to reports of child labor, forced labor and other labor-related impacts.
With the aim of improving environmental and social sustainability in the industry, various palm industry stakeholders came together to form the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) in 2004. The RSPO’s primary mechanism in working to achieve this goal is “a set of environmental and social criteria which companies must comply with in order to produce Certified Sustainable Palm Oil.” With the immense amount of land involved in palm oil production, the RSPO’s focus thus far has been on certification among large-scale producers. At the same time, a significant amount of the sector’s land use is among smallholder farmers whom current certification mechanisms do not often reach and where risks to people and the environment are often among the most severe.
As a significant buyer of palm oil, PepsiCo is an important actor in addressing land-related human rights issues in the industry. The global food and beverage company has identified land rights as one of its salient human rights issues – the human rights at risk of the most severe impacts in the company’s operations and supply chains. PepsiCo’s salient human rights issues also include land-related issues such as the human right to water and vulnerable workers such as women.
A key milestone in PepsiCo’s approach to the sustainable sourcing of palm oil was its 2014 commitment to “zero tolerance” for land grabs across its supply chains following Oxfam’s Behind the Brands campaign and associated advocacy efforts. In the past year, PepsiCo has also made a number of time-bound implementation plans regarding its land rights commitments in Brazil, Mexico, Thailand and Indonesia.
As the largest buyer of palm oil in Mexico, the company has published a detailed analysis of land tenure risks and impacts and is now carrying out training on high conservation value (HCV) and high carbon stock (HCS) assessments, as well as separate capacity-building programs with the national association of palm oil mills and producers, smallholders and the federal government.
As part of these ongoing efforts, PepsiCo made a commitment in February 2018 to participate in Oxfam’s FAIR Company-Community Partnerships, which “offer an alternative business model that addresses sustainability issues holistically, ensuring respect for human rights, protection of the environment, and inclusive economic development through a multi-stakeholder, landscape-based approach.”
With an initial focus on Indonesia in its work with PepsiCo, the FAIR Partnerships project and its acronym stand for: (1) Freedom of choice, including free, prior and informed consent; (2) Accountability, including transparent agreements and grievance mechanisms; (3) Improvement and sharing of benefits, including improved yields and resource use efficiency; and (4) Respect for rights and the environment.
The FAIR Company-Community Partnerships “require the active participation of multiple global and national companies in the palm oil value chain, local government agencies, civil society groups, and farmer organizations.” Following the development of its conceptual model in 2014, the initiative was co-created with sector stakeholders for two demonstration projects that began initial field-level activities in 2017. As the project is taken to scale, it will reach multiple locations in Indonesia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Nigeria.
PepsiCo is the first buyer to publicly support the FAIR Company-Community Partnerships. In addition, the initiative has “engaged with numerous commodity sector and financial sector companies” including “plantation and mill companies, consumer goods manufacturers, commercial and development banks, and institutional and impact investors.” In these engagements, the project’s approach is to “collaborate with buyers and investors to engage and support palm oil producers who, in turn, engage smallholder suppliers and their host communities.”
While the project remains in the early stages of implementation, the initiative is currently focused on demonstration projects that can then be scaled up based on “the proven business case, lessons learned, and impact measured.” The main components of these demonstration projects will include: