- Estée Lauder has partnered with the chemical company BASF, the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) and the supply chain non-profit Solidaridad to train farmers in Lampung, Indonesia, on sustainable palm oil cultivation and worker safety. The effort, called Project Lampung, began in November 2018 but was publicly announced this month.
- Project Lampung will take place over the next three years with the goal of working with 1,000 "smallholder" farmers or "farmers who own or cultivate farms that are less than 2.0 hectares of land," Estée Lauder explained in the announcement. About 40% of the world's palm oil production occurs on farms of this size, according to the company.
- The partners will also work to improve communication between farms and mills, but how this would happen is not explained in the company release. Estée Lauder did not respond to a request for comment.
"We are part of a complex multinational supply chain," Mindi DeLeary, the executive director of responsible sourcing at Estée Lauder, said in a statement. " This often means rolling up our sleeves and working with others to address the complexities and turn them into something positive for all involved."
Working directly with the farms will allow Estée Lauder to form a relationship with its suppliers and, specifically, the suppliers at the beginning of the palm oil supply chain. Currently, companies know who their trader is or might even know the mill, but it's less common to have visibility down to the level of the farmer, Diana Ruiz, a senior palm oil campaigner with Greenpeace, told Supply Chain Dive earlier this year.
Knowing who these farmers are could help to ensure the palm oil being purchased isn't linked to deforestation. With a three-year timeframe on the project, it would also require the company to maintain contact with them after Project Lampung has run its course.
Estée Lauder announced its 2020-2025 environmental goals earlier this year, which include targets for palm oil. The company wants 90% of its palm-based ingredients to be certified sustainable from RSPO physical supply chains by 2025. It did not disclose the current percentage.
Advocates of the RSPO certification say such labels will do more to help the environment than a total ban on palm oil. Three ecological researchers from the University of Kent and University of Oxford argue that if palm oil is banned or boycotted then it will need to be replaced with a different oil, shifting the deforestation concerns to a different crop. Palm oil requires less land and fertilizer than other sources of vegetable oil. "In fact, palm oil makes up 35% of all vegetable oils, grown on just 10% of the land allocated to oil crops," they wrote in The Conversation.
But these certifications have been in place for a number of years now and millions of acres are still subject to deforestation every year.
"Certification is a tool in the toolbox you help address these issues," Daniel Strechay, director of outreach and engagement and U.S. Representative at the RSPO, said earlier this year at the Responsible Business Summit. "It’s incumbent on companies to work holistically in their supply chain ... and not just lean on certification."
Some companies see a solution in space. Nestlé announced last year its plans to use satellite monitoring to ensure deforestation in its palm oil supply chain is limited.