Can ‘Big Brother’ technology clean up palm oil’s image?

LONDON (Reuters) – Some of the world’s major palm oil users, including Nestle, Unilever, and Mondelez, are trying out new satellite technology to track deforestation, as pressure grows on them to source the ingredient responsibly. They say the monitoring systems allow them to target people felling trees in producing countries like Malaysia and Indonesia, where forests are shrinking, more efficiently than policing supply chains on the ground. “They say you’re Big Brother,” said Benjamin Ware, global head of responsible sourcing at Nestle. “It’s not Big Brother – it’s today’s reality…there is nothing secret anymore.” Interviews with leading brands, commodity traders and plantation owners show the systems have limitations and opinions on them vary, reflecting tension within the industry over how to tackle an issue with no easy answer. Some say the technology is not enough to stop deforestation – that monitoring is not preventing. Others worry boycotting unsustainably made palm oil just drives bad practices elsewhere. RELATED COVERAGE Factbox: New systems pinpoint palm oil deforestation in real time, almost “Dividing the supply chain into the good versus the bad fundamentally does not solve deforestation,” said John Hartmann, global sustainability lead for agricultural supply chains at commodities trader Cargill, which sells… continue reading

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