Unilever, Mars, Hershey, and World's Largest Palm Oil Traders Suspend Rogue Supplier Over Its Relentless Deforestation

Notorious tycoon-owned timber and palm oil conglomerate Samling scrambles to adopt sham “No Deforestation” policy to keep customers while continuing to destroy rainforests

Some of the world’s largest consumer goods brands and their palm oil suppliers have suspended one of Malaysia’s most notorious timber and palm oil conglomerates, Samling Group, due to its relentless deforestation. To date, major consumer brands including Unilever, Mars, and Hershey – as well as palm oil traders including ADM, Bunge, Cargill, IOI, KLK, Louis Dreyfus, Sime Darby, Fuji Oil, and Wilmar (the world’s largest palm oil trader) – have suspended Samling from their supply chains.

As part of its Rapid Response deforestation monitoring program, Mighty Earth has documented at least 886 hectares of deforestation during the period September 2018-March 2020 in Samling’s timber plantation concessions in Sarawak, Malaysia.

Samling’s palm oil operations cover around 40,000 hectares in Malaysia and Indonesia, whereas its industrial tree plantation licences in Sarawak cover over 200,000 hectares, an area over five times the size of Singapore.

“Unilever, Mars, Hershey and others have acted swiftly by instructing their palm oil suppliers to impose a procurement suspension of Samling for its global supply chain. Samling has responded to these suspensions with a desperate bid to keep its remaining palm oil customers – not by halting all its forest clearance, but by holding up a shiny policy with one hand to distract its customers while continuing deforestation with the other hand,” said Mighty Earth Senior Campaign Director Deborah Lapidus.

A Samling-owned palm oil company – Glenealy Plantations – has declared a moratorium on further oil palm development and issued a no-deforestation policy. However, the new policy fails to stop Samling’s largest source of ongoing deforestation – its continued expansion of monoculture timber plantations. In addition, Glenealy’s oil palm land bank is mostly developed already, making the impact of the new policy minimal.

Palm oil trader Sime Darby informed Mighty Earth that: “We would like to confirm that we have notified Samling that we will no longer be sourcing from them due to concerns raised by our key customers. Central to these concerns is the adoption of NDPE [No Deforestation, No Peat, and No Exploitation] commitments across the whole Samling Group, and not just for Glenealy Plantations.” Fuji Oil, another palm oil trader, has also suspended Samling on the basis that its continued deforestation is not aligned with Fuji Oil’s Palm Oil Sourcing Policy and group-level association.

Publicly available mill sourcing lists and other data indicate that companies including BLD Plantations (KTS Group), Sarawak Oil Palms (Shin Yang Group), Nestlé, Mondelez, and PepsiCo have yet to take action to exclude Samling from their supply chains, despite having No Deforestation policies.

“In our outreach to Samling’s palm oil buyers, many stated that they didn’t need to take action because Samling’s deforestation was for timber, not palm oil. But a rainforest being destroyed for timber plantations is just as bad as a rainforest being destroyed for palm oil, and the profits are going to the same shareholders of the Samling group. There is no excuse for a company with a No Deforestation policy to be buying from rogue deforesters like Samling, plain and simple,” said Lapidus.

Founded by Datuk Yaw Teck Seng over 50 years ago, the Samling Group has a long track record of forest destruction and violations of the rights of indigenous peoples. In 2017, a coalition of Burmese civil society groups published a report detailing land grabbing, indigenous rights violations, and environmental problems in Samling’s palm oil operations in Myanmar. Findings included Samling’s role in the pollution of local water sources and clear-cutting of forests inside a proposed national park that is home to endangered tigers. A February 2020 article by The Sarawak Report, a NGO run by a British investigative journalist, alleges that a Samling-related company in Papua New Guinea has failed to “pay four indigenous groups nearly USD$100 million in compensation for large-scale illegal logging, environmental destruction and serious human rights abuses related to the Kiunga – Aiambak road project in Papua New Guinea.” This finding is based on a 2011 Papua New Guinea court judgment. A 2002 Greenpeace International report on this ‘road project’ (‘Partners in Crime’) described it as an unlawful, destructive ploy to open up new areas of rainforest for logging.

Samling and Mulia Sawit’s Ongoing Deforestation

Samling and Mulia Sawit’s Ongoing Deforestation

March 31, 2020

A slow loris in Southeast Asia.

As the sun sets, a small, wide-eyed primate emerges from its slumber. This primate, a slow loris, starts to move away from its sleeping nook high in a tree, traveling along a branch in search of food. This quest has become difficult with the sustained clearance of the rainforests it calls home and will only become harder: the slow loris’ habitat is shrinking and being replaced with plantations. This senseless destruction not only accelerates climate change, it can also bring people into contact with new zoonotic diseases as deforestation displaces forest-dependent animals.

Mighty Earth’s Rapid Response Deforestation Monitoring Program works to halt the deforestation that threatens slow lorises and other animals. Our program covers more than 3,500 palm oil concessions in Indonesia and Sarawak, Malaysia, monitoring an area more than twice the size of Portugal for deforestation and environmental destruction. When Mighty Earth detects deforestation on land linked to companies with No Deforestation, No Peat, No Exploitation (NDPE) policies, we alert those companies about the transgression, and they are usually quick to resolve such cases. However, in the case of two palm oil suppliers — Samling Group and Mulia Sawit Group — several palm oil traders have chosen to ignore Mighty Earth’s warnings and are, right now, still doing business with companies that have well-documented connections to ongoing deforestation.

Part 1. Samling Group

The Samling Group is a notorious Malaysian conglomerate that owns and operates oil palm plantations and timber concessions. Deforestation connected to Samling’s supply chain was first highlighted by Mighty Earth’s Rapid Response Monitoring Program in December 2018. Since then, Mighty Earth has found satellite evidence that Samling is responsible for clearing more than 779 hectares of forest in Sarawak, Malaysia. To date, four of Samling’s concessions have been included in a total of 11 Rapid Response reports.

The case with the most recent clearance, summarized in our Rapid Response report 24, involves large-scale deforestation within the group’s Marudi & Batu Belah concession in Sarawak. Satellite imagery shows that, in 2019, Samling was responsible for 403 hectares of deforestation within the concession. In the four years prior, from 2014-2018, 4,560 hectares of high density (>75%) tree cover was lost in the concession, according to Global Forest Watch.

In 2019, Samling deforested 403 hectares within its Marudi & Batu Belah concession, outlined in black. The areas in brown within the concession boundary show primary forest loss between 2002 and 2018.

Despite the well-documented destruction, only five traders with NDPE policies — ADM, Bunge, Cargill, Louis Dreyfus, and Wilmar — have suspended Samling from their supply chains. Meanwhile, AAK, BLD, Fuji Oil, IOI, Itochu, KLK, and Sime Darby all continue to purchase palm oil either directly or indirectly from Samling. In addition, based on their publicly available mill lists, numerous consumer brands remain linked to Samling, including Avon, Colgate-Palmolive, Danone, FrieslandCampina, Hershey Company, Intercontinental Specialty Fats, Johnson & Johnson, Kellogg Company, Mars, Mondelez, Nestle, P&G, PepsiCo, PZ Cussons, Reckitt Benckiser, Unilever, and Upfield. As long as these companies continue to source palm oil from Samling, there’s a risk that our shopping carts will contain products connected to recent deforestation.

Here’s the thing: all these companies have No Deforestation policies that explicitly prohibit them from purchasing from suppliers engaged in deforestation. So why do they continue to buy from Samling? The companies argue that Samling’s forest destruction is for wood products rather than palm oil, and therefore it’s okay to keep buying palm oil from the company. But the slow loris and other species whose habitats are being destroyed don’t care if their homes are being destroyed for wood or palm oil. How can these companies claim to be adhering to a No Deforestation policy when they are buying from one of the worst remaining deforesters in Southeast Asia?

Part 2: The Mulia Sawit Group

A Bornean orangutan.

The Mulia Sawit Group’s PT Persada Era Agro Kencana is located within Bornean orangutan habitat. The concession is adjacent to the Katingan River, which serves as the western border of Sebangau National Park, home to the largest area of contiguous lowland forest in Borneo.

Despite its proximity to a national park, PT Persada Era Agro Kencana continues to be a deforestation hotspot. Most recently, as shown in our Rapid Response report 25, the company deforested 912 hectares and prepared to clear another 974 between September 2019 and February 2020. Since Mulia Sawit’s deforestation was first highlighted by our Rapid Response Deforestation Monitoring Program in October 2018, we have identified 1,872 hectares of deforestation and 2,577 hectares of peatland clearance within the PT Persada Era Agro Kencana concession. A new analysis by Chain Reaction Research found Mulia Sawit to be the third largest deforester within Indonesia, Sarawak, and Papua New Guinea in 2019.

Mulia Sawit’s PT Persada Era Agro Kencana concession, outlined in black, is located partly within Bornean orangutan habitat, shown in orange. This concession also borders Sebangau National Park, home of the largest area of contiguous lowland forest in Borneo. Within PT Persada Era Agro Kencana, 912 hectares of forest have been cleared and another 974 hectares were prepared for clearance between September 2019 and February 2020.

While the majority of palm oil traders have suspended Mulia Sawit from their supply chains, data from public mill sourcing disclosures indicates that Itochu, KLK, and Neste all continue to purchase palm oil either directly or indirectly from Mulia Sawit, despite having No Deforestation policies. In addition, based on their publicly available mill lists, consumer brands Avon, Danone, Kellogg Company, Mondelez, Nestle, PepsiCo, and Unilever all remain linked to Mulia Sawit.

Call to Action

At this point in 2020 — the implementation deadline of most No Deforestation policies — companies should be proactively monitoring their supply chains, identifying cases of deforestation, and quickly acting on them. There is no excuse for continued sourcing from deforesters like Samling and Mulia Sawit.  Its time for companies to get serious about eliminating deforesters from their supply chains, plain and simple.

The new green bond may address one-third of deforestation in the Brazilian Cerrado

Written by Ashley Song

Deforestation in Brazil reached a record high in May of this year, and it’s possible that 2019 will be one of the worst years for deforestation within the country. Agricultural expansion — especially for soybean production and cattle grazing — is the leading cause of this environmental destruction, threatening the well-being of local communities, endangering wildlife, and contributing to climate change. In response to this devastation, the world’s first financial vehicle to offer green bonds for sustainable soy production was launched on July 4 at London Climate Week.

The goal of the green bond is to drive large-scale environmental change by providing low-interest credit lines to Brazilian soy and corn farmers who commit to avoiding deforestation. The bond aims to transfer $1 billion to more than one thousand medium-sized farmers (those operating one to six thousand hectares of land) within the next four years. If this new financial tool succeeds in changing on-farm practices, it could save 1 million hectares and eliminate 250 million tons of CO2.

Our Soy and Cattle Rapid Response program, developed in partnership with Aidenvironment, is monitoring native vegetation clearance across the Brazilian Cerrado, the world’s most biodiverse savannah. Each report highlights a selection of recent cases of clearance, prioritized based on known value chain links. In our first three reports, released in June and July, 36 farms cleared a total of 45,802 hectares. Of these properties, more than 40 percent were medium-sized and therefore qualified to benefit from the green bond. However, these farms accounted for just one-third of the native vegetation clearance included in our reports, while large farms were responsible for nearly all the rest.

Although large farms are responsible for an overall higher total of clearance, we found that medium farms are deforesting greater proportions of their properties.Whether or not the green bond is able to effectively address this higher rate of clearance among medium-sized farmers is an open question.

Rapid Response Monitoring System Webinar

Following the public launch of Mighty Earth’s Rapid Response Monitoring System, Mighty Earth hosted a webinar detailing how the new system works and our long-term plans for the project. The webinar was presented by Glenn Hurowitz, CEO, Mighty Earth; Deborah Lapidus, Southeast Asia Director, Mighty Earth; and Leo Bottrill, Founder & CEO, Maphubs.




The Rapid Response system aims to eliminate deforestation from the palm oil, soy, rubber, cocoa, paper, and cattle industries. Mighty Earth, working with partners Aidenvironment and MapHubs, analyzes satellite data from Planet Labs and other sources alongside concession maps to detect deforestation occuring on agricultural plantations; it then identifies supply chain and financial links between the plantations and the world's largest agricultural buyers.

Mighty Earth Announces “Rapid Response” System to Monitor Deforestation Linked to Agricultural Supply Chains

Mighty Earth Announces “Rapid Response” System to Monitor Deforestation Linked to Agricultural Supply Chains

View the Rapid Response Monitoring System

Today, global environmental organization Mighty Earth publicly launched its Rapid Response monitoring system aimed at eliminating deforestation linked to the palm oil, soy, rubber, cocoa, paper, and cattle industries.

Mighty Earth, working with partners Aidenvironment and MapHubs, analyzes satellite data from Planet Labs and other sources alongside concession maps to detect deforestation occurring on agricultural plantations; it then identifies supply chain and financial links between the plantations and the world’s largest agricultural buyers. Once the connection is established, Mighty Earth files alerts with the company and, because these companies have adopted commitments to eliminate deforestation from their supply chains, they are obliged to take action.

“The data to identify where and when deforestation is happening has existed for a long time, but companies and governments haven’t faced sufficient pressure to actually use it to halt the clearance,” said Mighty Earth CEO Glenn Hurowitz. “We’re using our political strength to make sure that companies like Cargill and Bunge act immediately when we detect one of their suppliers destroying forests.”

Satellite imagery shows that for the period March 31 to May 31, 2018, a total of 322 hectares of forest were cleared in the PT Kartika Cipta Pratama concession.

The system is already up and running for the palm oil industry, where it monitors for deforestation and peatland destruction on more than 3,000 oil palm concessions in Indonesia and Sarawak, Malaysia, covering more than 51 million acres of land.

“We decided to launch Rapid Response after we continued to find some of the world’s biggest companies violating their own environmental policies by buying from companies engaged in deforestation,” said Deborah Lapidus, Senior Campaigns Director at Mighty Earth. “By publicly filing alerts about the deforestation in their supply chain, we force these companies to act.”

Mighty Earth and its partners initiated a pilot of the system in late 2017, largely focused on major palm oil companies. Today is the first public announcement of the system and its findings thus far.

Data collected since the project began has identified:

  • 56 concessions where new deforestation has occurred
  • More than 50 companies responsible for engaging in deforestation and peatland development; the top ten companies alone are responsible for a combined 74,000 acres of deforestation and peat destruction
  • Significant new clearance by rogue companies that have been expelled from the supply chains of the major palm oil companies, but are still seeking to find ways around these supply chains through other “leakage” markets

The Rapid Response monitoring system has contributed to:

  • More than 50 instances of palm oil traders suspending purchases from non-compliant suppliers
  • 4 supplier moratoria on further deforestation
  • Universal grievance tracking from the major palm oil companies

As part of today’s announcement, Mighty Earth also released its first assessment of traders’ performance resolving Rapid Response grievances. Of the 16 palm oil traders assessed, the companies that performed the worst were Archer Daniels Midland (ADM), First Resources, IOI, and Cargill. Golden Agri-Resources, Apical (part of the RGE group), KLK, and Louis Dreyfus performed the best.

Mighty Earth is now starting to work with investors and downstream consumer brands on the rapid response findings. These companies, and the public, can view reports containing cases of emerging deforestation and regular updates on grievances lodged with the traders.

Philanthropic support from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, the Norwegian Development Agency, National Wildlife Federation, the Arcus Foundation, the JMG Foundation, and others has provided millions of dollars to allow the project to expand to cover other key commodities and regions.

In addition to its work on palm oil, Mighty Earth campaigns have played a leading role in persuading eight of the world’s leading tire companies to adopt “No Deforestation, No Exploitation” policies for rubber; getting 34 chocolate and cocoa companies to pledge to eliminate deforestation in their West African supply chains; and spurring pledges from soy giants like Louis Dreyfus and COFCO to protect native vegetation.

“It’s great that so many companies are announcing commitments to end deforestation, but we have to make sure these commitments are actually enforced,” Hurowitz said.

Those interested in learning more about how the Rapid Response system works, Mighty Earth’s long-term plans for the project, and more are invited to attend a live webinar on March 14.