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Will other Asian consumer giants follow as Kao goes forest-friendly?

Greenpeace challenges Asian consumer companies such as India’s Godrej and ITC and China’s Liby and Nice to make similar commitments as the Japanese beauty products maker commits to forest-friendly policy

Japanese consumer goods giant Kao Corporation has become the first major consumer company based in Asia to promise to remove forest destruction from its products.

The firm has pledged to purchase raw materials such as palm oil and pulp fibres only from companies that enforce a zero deforestation policy - although this commitment will not be enforced until 2020. 

A recent update to its guidelines for sustainable procurement of raw materials as published on its website stated: “We will not purchase palm oil that contributes to development of any high conservation value forests, high carbon stock forests or peat lands, regardless of the depth.”

Kao further explained that by 2020, it will obtain the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil’s (RSPO) supply chain certification systems for all of its factories as it builds a traceable supply chain. 

In the interim, the maker of skin care brands such as Jergens, Molton Brown and Biore, added that by end of 2015, it will buy sustainable palm oil that can be traced to the mill for use in its consumer products. This applies to all palm oil products and its derivatives.

The question now is whether or not other Asian consumer goods companies like India’s Godrej and ITC, or China’s Liby and Nice, will listen to this demand for forest friendly products

Areeba Hamid, forest campaigner, Greenpeace International

For pulp products, the firm also committed to purchase only recycled or sustainably sourced paper for use in the packaging of its consumer products and office paper. However, in the event that it would need to use virgin pulp, the company said it will follow the zero deforestation guideline. 

Kao first formulated and released its sustainability statement in July 2013, with conservation of biodiversity as one of its key commitments to reduce environmental impact.

In a statement last week, environmental campaign group Greenpeace International welcomed the company’s latest move and called on other Asian consumer giants in India and China to do the same.

Its forest campaigner, Areeba Hamid commented that while it took more than a year for Kao to shift its practices and despite some areas that remain unclear in its policies, it is still good news for consumers.

“The question now is whether or not other Asian consumer goods companies like India’s Godrej and ITC, or China’s Liby and Nice, will listen to this demand for forest friendly products,” said Hamid.

The environmental group found other weaknesses in Kao’s new policy, including:

  • It does not guarantee that its products are not linked to suppliers involved in forest destruction until 2020, another six more years of unmonitored forests impact.
  • There is no reference to Free Prior and Informed Consent, a universally recognised standard in sustainable sourcing policy that ensures the rights of local and indigenous communities are respected. 
  • The policy lacks clarity on how to take action, specifically if suppliers are found to violate its policy. Currently, Kao’s principle of action if suppliers are found in contravention to its guidelines only mentions that it “will take appropriate action” including auditing of its suppliers.

“More than a year of engagement with Kao has finally shown that that demand for forest friendly commodities is not just limited to European and American companies. But with Indonesia’s forest’s disappearing faster than anywhere else in the world, we urge Kao to not just commit to forest protection, but to do so more urgently,” said Rie Honda, forest campaigner at Greenpeace Japan.

“A critical issue in policies such as Kao’s is around how companies plan to implement No Deforestation, known as the high carbon stock approach. Suppliers such as Golden Agri Resources among others are already implementing it, taking into consideration conservation and social issues. Greenpeace will push Kao to urgently address this,” she added.

Several companies such as Procter&Gamble, L’Oreal and Unilever have recently committed to zero deforestation policies after sustained campaigns and global pressure from Greenpeace.

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