It will start by using certified palm oil as it becomes available in the second half of 2008 and will look to have all the palm oil it uses in Europe fully traceable by 2012.
This initiative builds on Unilever's strong track-record in developing sustainability over more than a decade – from helping to establish the Marine Stewardship Council to develop sustainable fishing practices and establishing a sustainable agriculture policy in 1995, to launching certifiably sustainable tea earlier this year.
In setting this ambitious goal Unilever recognises that it will have to continue to work in partnership with governments, suppliers, NGOs and other users of palm oil.
Announcing the initiative at the Prince of Wales' May Day Climate Change Summit in London, Unilever CEO Patrick Cescau said: "Palm oil is an important raw material for us and the whole consumer goods industry. We use a substantial amount of palm oil and we want to be an agent for positive change, as we have been in fish, tea and other areas.
"We started work on sustainable palm oil ten years ago by developing and sharing our own guidelines and good practices with growers and suppliers, leading to the setting up of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil in 2004. Through the RSPO, we have continued to work hard to build an industry consensus on criteria for sustainable palm cultivation.
"Now we need to take the next step. Suppliers need to move to meet the criteria, by getting certified both the palm oil from their own plantations and the palm oil they buy from elsewhere. We also intend to support the call for an immediate moratorium on any further deforestation for palm oil in Indonesia. We are committed to doing this because we believe it is the right thing to do for the people who use our products, for the environment and communities in and around which palm oil is grown and for our business and our brands."
Unilever will continue to play a leadership role on the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) and drive it as a vehicle for change, ensuring that it applies effective sanctions on suppliers who persist in unlawful deforestation practices.
Rod Taylor, Director at WWF International added: "WWF applauds Unilever's pledge of support for efforts to halt deforestation in Indonesia and to create a palm oil supply drawn entirely from certified sustainable sources. WWF wishes Unilever every success in turning its commitment into reality, and hopes that Unilever's actions will inspire others to follow".
Unilever will also regularly report its progress against these commitments and continue to liaise with all stakeholders.
Speaking on behalf of Unilever's Sustainable Development Group, Jonathon Porritt said: "We are delighted to see these new commitments on palm oil from Unilever. We've been advising the company on these issues over the last two years and have been particularly impressed at the way in which Unilever alerted the world to the consequences of today's unsustainable rush into biofuels.
"These are ambitious targets, and Unilever's readiness to take a leadership role in establishing secure, certified supply chains for palm oil is particularly significant. Some of the basics have been developed through the RSPO but things now need to move much faster if further damage to the world's rainforests and other ecosystems is to be avoided."
About Unilever's Sustainable Development Group:
We have a group of internationally respected external advisors who meet regularly as a group and individually with senior management and scientists. They form a panel of independent – and independently minded – experts who advise us on the challenges of sustainable development.
- Daniel Esty – Hillhouse Professor of Environmental Law and Policy, School of Forestry and Environmental Studies at Yale University, US
- Ma Jun – Director of the Institute of Public & Environmental Affairs in Beijing
- Malini Mehra – Founder & CEO of the Centre for Social Markets
- Jonathon Porritt – Co-founder & Programme Director of Forum for the Future and Chairman of the UK Sustainable Development Commission
- Tiahoga Ruge – Director of the Center of Education and Training for Sustainable Development (Cecadesu) for the Government of Mexico's Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources