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Kellogg and the politics of sustainable certification

March 15, 2011

Last week the online business journal MiBiz posted a story that was headlined, “Kellogg Co. takes leadership stance in support of sustainable palm oil.”

The article states that the Battle Creek-based cereal company has committed to being part of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). The RSPO was an industry-founded entity with a mission that states:

“To advance the production, procurement and use of sustainable oil palm products through:

  • The development, implementation and verification of credible global standards and,
  • The engagement of stakeholders along the supply chain.”

The MiBiz article affirms the RSPO mission statement by citing both a Kellogg’s spokesperson and a representative of the World Wildlife Fund who says, “By supporting sustainable production in this way, Kellogg is demonstrating just the sort of responsible action that we want others to take. As the first in the U.S. food industry to take this step, they’re setting an example for others to follow.”

It all sounds pretty fabulous, right? Well, it seems that there is information that would question the so-called sustainable practices of the RSPO that Kellogg’s has decided to sign onto.

First, it is important to think about how much accountability there is with such an entity, especially since it is a self-police organization. There is no governmental or citizen-based mechanism for accountability.

Second, the RSPO is made up of entities from the banking industry, Consumer Goods Manufacturers, Palm Oil growers, Palm Oil Processors & traders, Retailers, Environmental Groups and other NGOs. The list from their website is a pretty mixed bag of entities such as ConAgra, Heinz, Cargill, Archer Daniels Midland, Nestle, and PepsiCo from the corporate world and the World Wildlife Fund and Oxfam in the NGO world. An important question for anyone to ask at this point is what is the track record of some of these multinational corporations on matters of ecological sustainability? If you do any research into many of these companies you will quickly discover that that have an awful record when it comes to sustainability.

Third, there is plenty of evidence that despite the claims made by the RSPO, the practices of palm oil production is quite unsustainable. In a 2008 article from Green Peace there is the claim that palm oil production has contributed significantly to deforestation in countries like Malaysia and Indonesia. The same article states that the RSPO is just another form of Greenwashing by a coalition of corporations in order to convince the public that what they are doing is good for the environment.

Another indication that the RSPO is not ultimately committed to ecological integrity is their rejection of greenhouse gas emissions standards. According to Friends of the Earth, “Clearing forests to expand oil palm plantations is increasing carbon dioxide emissions. It’s also having a devastating impact on forest communities by trashing the very resources they rely on for food and shelter.”

Author Heather Rogers (Green Gone Wrong) also has a critical take on the RSPO practices in a chapter on the ecological and social consequences of bio-fuels and palm oil. Rogers, who spent a great deal of time in Borneo doing research says that companies that are members of the RSPO have not only displaced local communities in order to plant palm tree plantations they have also cut down old growth forests in the process.

The Rainforest Action Network (RAN) has similar concerns, but states: “The RSPO can be an important tool, both for communities and for our work against the US Agribusiness giants. But the RSPO’s success and credibility depends on the work of organizations like SawitWatch, the Forest People’s Program, and other local NGOs who work to ensure that the RSPO is a real multi-stakeholder initiative, and works actively to ensure that community-level conflict is solved before oil palm companies are certified “sustainable.”

Clearly there are serious concerns about the effectiveness and lack of accountability with the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil process and its member companies. Unfortunately, this was not something that MiBiz was willing to explore in reporting that Kellogg’s had taken a “leadership” position on this issue.


3 Comments leave one →
  1. vince permalink
    March 16, 2011 6:24 pm

    Sadly, I’m not surprised that Kellog’s would participate in a green washing attempt like the RSPO that you describe above.

    The company has a long history of doing “positive” PR work, primarily hrough the Kellogg foundation [a so-called “separate” entity that receives its money from investments in Kellogg’s]), while marketing dangerous and unhealthy food products. Its use and embrace of GMO and biotech crops and ingredients is well-known and they have been the target of an ongoing activist and shareholder campaign:

    What’s sad is how often Kellogg’s gets a free pass from the media. MiBIZ let their claims go unchallenged as GRIID rightfully points out. However, GRIID did a similar thing back when it reported that a community group called Our Kitchen Table was receiving a substantial grant from Kellogg’s for a gardening initiative.

    Kellogg’s is sneaky, but it looks like customers and shareholders are waking up!

    No more GMOs!


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