Consumers and investors in Europe want the palm oil industry to be sustainable. It comes with a cost that is likely to be paid by the oil’s biggest market — Asia. In this first of a two-parter on the industry, we look at the complexities of certification.

SINGAPORE (Apr 29): In December 2016, Mighty Earth, a US-based environmental activist group, published a report accusing commodities company Olam International of widespread deforestation in Gabon, Africa, where it held concessions to grow oil palm. In response, Olam CEO Sunny Verghese said the company’s plantations were on land that was already highly logged, as well as degraded secondary forest and savannah.

A couple of months later, however, Olam said it would suspend forest-clearing activity. In July 2017, the company and Mighty Earth, which had visited the Gabon plantations at Olam’s invitation, issued a joint statement, with the environmental group seemingly approving of Olam’s efforts at conservation. Two years on, Olam has now set a target to achieve 100% traceability of its palm plantations by 2020. It has a set of commitments that include zero-deforestation in high conservation value (HCV) areas, no development of peatlands and no burning, as well as a framework for labour and social rights.

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