Burger King Turns Over New Leaf


No, not a lettuce leaf – whose freshness the fast-food giant could stand to improve – but a leaf in regard to sourcing palm oil from Sinar Mas

The move is reportedly a consequence of Sinar Mas’ environmental damage record in Indonesia, where it owns a number of enormous palm plantations, also called monocultures, through various subsidiaries.  

Sinar Mas, a conglomerate on the order of Koch Industries or PPG (Pittsburgh Paints), is controlled by the Widjaja family, a far-flung empire of interrelated individuals who have their fingers in every pie in Indonesia and the Near East, from real estate to banking.  

In September of 2010, acknowledging Greenpeace reports of irregularities in its palm oil division, the company hired an independent auditor to look into complaints that PT Smart had cleared forest and peat fields without the required government permits in order to plant palm oil trees.  

The auditor, BSI Group, issued an August 19 summary on six points of its audit, showing: that PT Smart did, in fact, plant more than three meters deep on Indonesian peatland, a violation of Indonesian law; that the Sinar Mas Group has destroyed rainforests and thus Orangutan habitat; that this forest clearing occurred without getting the proper Timber Utilization Permit (IPK), and/or before or without getting an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA); that the land clearance was achieved by burning forest; that the clearances and expansions caused both social and land conflicts; and that Sinar Mas was guilty of “greenwashing” by creating PT Smart and PT Ivo Mas Tunggal under the umbrella of Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) membership.  

FYI, only 10 out of roughly 1,000 palm oil growers in Indonesia are certified by the RSPO; PT Smart and PT Ivo Mas Tunggal are not among them. And as of September, Greenpeace has asked Indonesian President Sussilo Yudhoyonon to extend the moratorium, or prohibition, on all past and pending licenses, from Sinar Mas and other companies, which would allow the destruction of forest or peat lands. 

Greenpeace has also accused Wal-Mart, Tesco and Carrefour of trading with Sinar Mas’ subsidiary, Asia Pulp & Paper (APP), reportedly the fourth largest such company in the world.  

Other companies who stand accused of consorting with this Indonesian paper giant include Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC), Hewlett Packard (HP), French supermarket owner Auchan, retail group WH Smith, office supplies supergiant Staples, and Aussie paper merchant PaperlinX.  

As of July 5, Wal-Mart, KFC, HP and Staples had all declined to defend themselves or promise to mend their ways. PaperlinX commented, but only to say that if there was evidence of wrongdoing, the company would stop trading with that entity. Tesco denied the APP sourcing, as did WH Smith, and Carrefour has promised to stop dealing with APP.  

Back to Burger King, also known as BK, which put its money where its mouth is – or should I say where consumers’ mouths are – and dropped Sinar Mas like a hot potato (a bottle of hot palm oil?). This surprising but refreshing behavior indicates that BK may actually be sensitive to “green” consumer sentiments, and truly willing to let us “have it our way.”  

I can’t speak for Celsias readers, but I think any time a giant corporation like Burger King (third in line in the fast-food giant ranks, after McDonalds and Subway in terms of sales) takes the initiative to protect the world’s environment, without being shamed into doing so, it deserves a public pat on the back.  

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  • Posted on Sept. 16, 2010. Listed in:

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