Halloween is Here – But Is Chocolate Firms’ Palm Oil Use the Real Horror Story?

It's Halloween! And many of us will have the big bags of sweets and chocolates ready for those lovable little scamps from down the road / gangs of marauding teenagers who will no doubt call expecting a reward for their cute costumes / demanding their protection money.

But what about the provenance and supply chain stories that sit behind our favourite snack foods? The big food firms that dominate the market have in recent years been keen to tell us that they are doing the right things in terms of sustainability and good supply chain practice. As I started my working career with nine years at Mars Confectionery, it has been good to see worthwhile initiatives to help cocoa growers for instance coming from both Mars and Nestlé .

But an article in the Guardian last week reported on accusations that those two firms, along with Hershey, were breaking pledges to stop using palm oil from de-forested Indonesian jungles, threatening  the habitat of tigers, elephants and orangutans. As the article says, “the last parcel of Sumatran rainforest in which these three species all roam – along with rhinos, clouded leopards and sun bears – is vanishing at a dramatic pace as lucrative palm oil plantations illegally eat into tropical forestland”.

In terms of those firms, Nestlé promised to end deforestation in its supply chain by 2015 in response to Greenpeace’s KitKat campaign of 2010. In July, the firm told the Guardian it was buying 47% of its palm oil from traceable and acceptable sources; they now claim it is 90% which seems a big jump in a short period as the Guardian points out.

Hershey is even worse, with “plantation level sourcing” down to 14% from 26% in 2016, and their commitment to source back to mill level has been deferred to 2020. So that suggests they’ve basically given up. They have “realised it will take more time to achieve this goal than originally anticipated”. Why, exactly?  (Hershey is horrible chocolate anyway).

At least those two firms responded to the Guardian’s questions. But in terms of my old firm, the Guardian says that “Mars did not respond to a request for comment, despite a promise of “cutting suppliers trafficking conflict palm oil by the end of 2015,” which campaigners claim has not been met”.

That is very disappointing generally and to me specifically, as someone who first got into the procurement business while working for what was always an excellent firm. Come on Mars – tell us what you’re doing and take a lead on this issue. I still eat Twix, Mars Bars, Topic and Maltesers far more often than I should, and being selfish, I don’t want to be worrying about the elephants every time I take another bite. And of course Mars executives should always remember the Five Principles, including  Responsibility and Mutuality.

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