Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Will Nestle budge?

A Greenpeace campaign is in full swing against Nestle on palm oil sourcing. Greenpeace has released a report "Caught Red-Handed: How Nestlé's Use of Palm Oil is Having a Devastating Impact on Rainforest, The Climate and Orang-utans," which says "Nestlé is using palm oil from destroyed Indonesian rainforests and peatlands in products like PowerBar, Nestlé Crunch Crisp, and Coffee Mate, pushing already endangered orangutans to the brink of extinction and accelerating climate change."

Will Greenpeace succeed in extracting a commitment from Nestle on sourcing sustainable palm oil the way they did against Unilever two years ago?

In early 2008, environmental campaigner Greenpeace targeted Unilever over unsustainable sourcing practices of palm oil. The dramatic campaign, in true Greenpeace style, saw activists dressed as Orangutans and making jungle noises descended on the offices of consumer goods giant Unilever. The campaign coincided with Greenpeace releasing a damning report "How Unilever suppliers are burning up Borneo.”

The campaign brought Unilever on their knees within days. A deal was stuck. And Unilever committed buying all its palm oil from certified sustainable sources by 2015. The consumer goods giant also promised to have all palm oil it uses in Europe from certified sustainable sources by 2012. See the complete report here that I wrote for Ethical Corporation magazine then.

Unilever has since taken a leadership role on moving toward sustainable palm oil. Nestle, another company named in the Greenpeace report then, watched from the fence. Until then, Nestle had not even joined the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, a multistakeholder forum to develop a certification scheme for sustainable palm oil.

After securing a commitment from Unilever, Greenpeace then said they would turn their attention to other companies, one by one. So now it is Nestle' turn, it seems. This time, Greenpeace is using the power of social media to attack Nestle.

While Unilever responded to the crisis with a certain grace, Nestle has adopted a hostile approach. Within hours, Nestle got YouTube to remove the video that Greenpeace had uploaded as part of the campaign. Greenpeace now accuses Nestle of censoring the campaign advertisement.

Nestle' actions will be closely watched in the coming days and weeks. Will they act by committing to sustainable palm oil? or will they create a reputation mess and offer new lessons in mismanaging a crisis?

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