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Mars Inc. Raises the Bar for Sustainable Palm Oil

By Jan Lee

Mars Inc. is upping the ante regarding the sustainable palm oil market. The manufacturer of the popular chocolate candy bars Mars Bar, 3 Musketeers and Twix announced its commitment yesterday to transition to 100 percent certified sustainable palm oil in its products by the end of 2014.

At present, Mars adheres to the guidelines of the Roundtable of Sustainable Palm Oil, which allows it to purchase sustainable palm oil in accordance with the organization’s “mass balance program.” The program is set up to assist companies as they transition to fully certified sustainable oil, by allowing them to mix the sustainable oil they purchase with conventional sources. According to the RSPO, it also helps support the fledgling sustainable palm oil market, by upping the demand in a way that can be met by suppliers.

“We will continue to source 100 percent RSPO mass-balance certified palm oil, but we are now strengthening our commitment as follows to ensure this palm oil is genuinely sustainable,” the company said in its press release.

To do this, it plans to “go beyond the RSPO criteria” by setting its own benchmarks for suppliers. According to Mars, suppliers must guarantee that their stock:

  • Comes from traceable, legal sources

  • Doesn’t exploit areas under conservation or high carbon stock forests

  • Doesn’t come from peat areas “regardless of depth”

  • Isn’t produced in areas where the land was burned to make way for new development

In addition, it underscores the rights of communities in the area to make decisions and “withhold their free, prior and informed consent for plantation developments on land they own legally, communally or by custom” and sets boundaries to ensure that human rights of workers are upheld.

“Mars has introduced a new sourcing charter that will require all its suppliers to have a fully sustainable and traceable palm oil supply across all their operations by the end of 2015 (or to have plans in place by the end of 2015 for doing so) and to have confirmed their commitment to the principles in its sourcing charter by end 2014,” the company said.

While all of these topics are addressed by RSPO, Mars’ wording in some cases goes further. RSPO for example, sets out a course by which to decrease impact on high carbon stock forests, while the company’s commitment moves its goalposts past that point. It has also said that it will not allow burning to be used in any instances of clearing, where the RSPO has set out a progressive plan allowing for controlled burns under limited circumstances.

In addition, the company has set a goal of 100 percent traceable oil back to supplying mills by the end of 2014. This puts it in league, with other food manufacturers striving to reach sustainability by the end of 2015. And hopefully, says Barry Parkin, chief sustainability officer for the company, it will encourage others to step up their move to certified sustainable palm oil.

"Rapid expansion of palm oil plantations continues to threaten environmentally sensitive areas of tropical rainforest and carbon-rich peatlands, as well as the rights of communities that depend on them for their livelihoods … We believe that these additional measures will not only help build a genuinely sustainable pipeline for Mars, but will also help accelerate change across the industry by encouraging our suppliers to only source from companies whose plantations and farms are responsibly run,” Parkin said. The Forest Trust, of which Mars says it is now a member, is helping the company set up its framework for sustainable sourcing.

Like many candy manufacturers, Mars has come under pressure recently from consumer groups to upgrade its palm oil sourcing procedures. And organizations like the Union of Concerned Scientists, which just developed a scorecard to rate packaged food, personal care and fast-food companies on their progress has added a further incentive.

With so many manufacturers climbing on board, more expansive listings in the vein of what the UCS has developed may soon be necessary to keep track of progress. But it sure is good to see companies like Mars stepping up to the plate.

Image of Mars Bar: Taken by Asim18

Image of progressive deforestation for palm tree plantation: Sandra Díaz

Jan Lee headshot

Jan Lee is a former news editor and award-winning editorial writer whose non-fiction and fiction have been published in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, the U.K. and Australia. Her articles and posts can be found on TriplePundit, JustMeans, and her blog, The Multicultural Jew, as well as other publications. She currently splits her residence between the city of Vancouver, British Columbia and the rural farmlands of Idaho.

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