Nestlé Under Fire For “Censorship” Of Online Protest Against Palm Oil-Related Deforestation

Nestlé Under Fire For “Censorship” Of Online Protest Against Palm Oil-Related Deforestation

22 March 2010

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USA —  The world’s largest food manufacturer is under fire for its response to an online protest asking it to end its use of palm oil sourced from Sinar Mas, a company accused of expanding plantations into virgin rainforests and peatlands.

Nestlé is facing public calls for a boycott of its products, particularly its popular chocolate bar Kit Kat, despite releasing a statement that it had stopped buying palm oil from Sinar Mas.

“I see your company in a completely new and negative light. Not buying your products any more,” a consumer named Thayer Fox commented on the company’s Facebook page on Monday.

The comment was one of hundreds on the page in response to a provocative Greenpeace video last week that showed an office worker eating a Kit Kat that turned out to be the finger of an orangutan instead of a chocolate bar.

The ad was posted on YouTube, but later removed with the explanation, “This video is no longer available due to a copyright claim by Société des Produits Nestlé S.A.” Greenpeace resorted to posting the video on Vimeo, and the ad was quickly uploaded and reposted by supporters on their web sites, as well as on YouTube.

New videos mocking the company’s effort to “censor” the Kit Kat video as well as Nestlé staff depicted as cartoons discussing how to react to the protest also went viral.

The ad’s release coincided with a report from the environmental group saying Nestlé continues to make products using unsustainable sources such as Sinar Mas, Indonesia’s largest palm oil producer. The report says Sinar Mas plants palm in orangutan habitats and peatlands, destroying one of the most diverse rainforests in the world.

Unilever, a corporate giant that owns numerous brands such as Axe, Bertolli, Knorr, Lux, Pond’s, Rexona, Slim-Fast and Surf, dropped Sinar Mas as a supplier after a similar campaign by Greenpeace in 2008.

Cadbury has removed palm oil from its chocolates while Kraft canceled its contract with Sinar Mas this year.

According to commentary by Jeremy Hance on Mongabay, the World Bank last year suspended lending to all palm oil plantation projects after an audit found one company that operates in Africa and Indonesia, the Wilmar Group, had violated environmental safeguards required for grants.

Most of the world’s palm oil is grown and produced in rainforests of the Indonesian islands of Borneo and Sumatra, which are home to orangutans, an endangered species. After logging rainforests, palm oil companies use uncontrolled burning to clear the land, according to the Cheyenne Mountain Zoological Society.

Deforestation accounts for one-fifth of all carbon emissions worldwide, more than emissions from all the vehicles and planes in the globe, Greenpeace reports.

Indonesia ranks as the third-largest emitter, after the United States and China. Rainforests in the Asian nation are home to orangutans.

Nestlé has released a statement saying it stopped using palm oil from Sinar Mas after another Greenpeace report in 2009. The company said it is concerned about “the serious environmental threat to rainforests and peat fields in South East Asia caused by the planting of palm oil plantations,” but that “the complexity of the palm oil supply chain” will allow it use 100 percent “certified sustainable palm oil” in 2015.

“We buy palm oil from different suppliers,” Nestlé added. “At this point in time these suppliers of palm oil say they can’t currently guarantee that one particular company is excluded, due to the mingling of palm oil in a very complex supply chain. We will continue to pressure our suppliers to eliminate any sources of palm oil which are related to rainforest destruction and to provide valid guarantees of traceability as quickly as possible.”

But the Pesticide Action Network Asia and Pacific (PAN-AP) on Monday called palm oil sourcing “the latest in a long history of destructive and irresponsible practices by Nestlé” and a clear breach of the Round Table on Sustainable Palm Oil, of which the Nestlé is a member.

“This is a company that has systematically undermined the rights of its workers, of communities, and the environment and it is time for it to be held accountable for its actions,” PAN-AP added.

Nestlé’s statement also did little to assuage consumers appalled to discover that their favorite chocolate bar and other Nestlé products that contain palm oil could have been made using palm oil farmed at the expense of endangered animals and rainforests.

Consumers took to the company’s Facebook page, with some using altered Nestlé’s logos to express their outrage, prompting a warning from the food giant that such altered logos would be deleted.

A protester responded to the warning with, “It’s not OK for people to use altered versions of your logos, but it’s OK for you to alter the face of Indonesian rainforests?”

The warning was part of initial efforts by Nestlé to “set rules” on its Facebook page. The company’s Facebook moderator later backtracked, “This (deleting logos) was one in a series of mistakes for which I would like to apologize. And for being rude. We’ve stopped deleting posts, and I have stopped being rude.”

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