John Lewis pledges to protect tropical forest in Indonesia from deforestation

Iceland boss: We’re not anti-palm oil we’re anti-deforestation

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The John Lewis Partnership (JLP), which also owns Waitrose, said the estimated 1,200 acres of ancient forest is the equivalent needed to cover all palm oil used in the brands’ own label products. Marija Rompani, director of ethics and sustainability at JLP, said: “We know that tropical forests are still under threat from agricultural expansion for palm oil and other commodity crops, which is why we are helping to protect and restore them. 

“There is still much work to be done but this is a hugely positive step towards our ambition to source all of our key raw materials sustainably, and to have a positive impact in the communities and landscapes from which we source.”

This initiative, in partnership with the Forest Conservation Fund, will help protect biodiversity in the forest in the East Kalimantan region, on the Island of Borneo.

It will also support the Mului indigenous community who have legal ownership of the land.

The funding by the retailer will help protect the “significant number” of important species, including proboscis monkeys and critically engaged Hornbills, which live in the area.

Charlotte Opal, executive director of the Forest Conservation Fund, said: “Destruction of tropical rainforests for other markets continues apace. 

“This new commitment to forest conservation shows that palm oil users can actually become forest positive – not just avoid deforestation for their own supply chains, but actively protect forests as well.”

 “The John Lewis Partnership has taken a very important step, and we hope it will inspire other companies to do the same.

Until the global industry actively supports conservation on a wide scale, forests and the people and species that depend on them will remain under threat from agricultural expansion for palm, and other commodity crops.”

The JLP aims to source all palm oil in its products from certified sustainable and deforestation-free sources.

Deforestation and forest degradation continue to take place at alarming rates, the United Nation’s State of the World’s Forest report last year found.

Since 1990, it is estimated that 420 million hectares of forest have been lost through conversion to other land uses, although the rate of deforestation has decreased over the past three decades.

Between 2015 and 2020, the rate of deforestation was estimated at 10 million hectares per year, down from 16 million hectares per year in the 1990s.

Tanya Steele, the chief executive at WWF, said critical landscapes in the Brazilian Amazon and Cerrado are being cleared to grow crops, like soy for animal feed, which is then exported to countries including the UK.

She added: “Not only are these nature-rich habitats home to species that we know people love and want to see protected – they play a critical role in the fight against climate change.

“What we buy here in the UK is fueling this nature loss all over the world. We’re exporting most of our environmental footprint – and current UK laws do not go far enough to prevent this.

“Many companies are already taking steps to source products more sustainably, joining initiatives like the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). But voluntary initiatives alone aren’t enough.”

Ms Steele said the UK Government’s flagship Environment Bill currently going through Parliament will give “a once in a generation” opportunity to set ambitious new laws to protect and restore nature at home and abroad. 

She added: “We must seize this chance to get environmentally damaging practices out of our supply chains and off our shelves, by making it illegal by 2023 to import any products causing deforestation and habitat destruction overseas – and go further to slash the UK’s global environmental footprint by 2030. 

“Delivering these new laws is essential if we are to protect people, nature and the planet – our one shared home.”

Comment by Paula den Hartog, sector lead palm oil at the Rainforest Alliance 

One of the key issues in the palm oil sector is deforestation and the impact it has on communities, farmers, and workers, especially those in remote rural areas with smallholdings. These issues require  governments, companies, NGOs, producers, communities, and consumers to each take their responsibility. We welcome the John Lewis Partnership’s initiative to ensure their supply chain is more sustainable through RSPO (Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil) certification, as well as directly engaging with communities and producers in areas vulnerable to deforestation and exploitation. This combination approach is key to advancing sustainability in this sector and a good example for other companies to follow. Pushing real action at the landscape level can help secure the remaining ancient forest and support the community itself.  

Banning palm oil products or the use of palm oil in products leaves small farmers and their communities without the necessary means to make a living and improvements on the ground.  The UK government and EU Commission are working on mandatory due diligence legislation on imports of products linked to deforestation. We welcome these measures to ensure that both palm oil importing countries and companies themselves are taking their responsibility to prevent global deforestation and support the uptake of more sustainably produced palm oil.  

We also encourage consumers to ask for certified palm oil in their products and support companies that are taking their responsibility and engaging with their suppliers and the producing communities. 

Organizations like the Rainforest Alliance help address the issues in the palm sector, including by working with companies to understand where they are sourcing from. It then supports them by engaging with smallholder farmers to help improve their economic situation and implement more sustainable practices. Protecting forests by engaging and empowering the communities that depend on them and protect them is vital for the smallholder farmers and the sector at large.   

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