Nestlé going beyond the “No”: Transforming supply chains through RE-storation, RE-forestation, RE-generation
While it is now well understood that supply chains are responsible for the biggest impacts our society has on ecosystems and people, it has not always been the case.
Back in 2010, Greenpeace brought on the table the evidence of links between the brand Kit Kat and the leading Indonesian palm oil grower, GAR. Building on the work we had done since 1999 in timber supply chains, where we had learnt how to transform opaque supply chains, we took on the challenge of bringing transparency to Nestlé’s supply chain. It would require going beyond labels and certification and make a bold, ambitious commitment in order to drive change in the supply chain. And that’s what Nestlé did. So was born the first “No Deforestation, No Exploitation” commitment.
It did many good things: it allowed for the creation of the “High Carbon Stock” methodology to really define what deforestation is in practice and it encouraged suppliers such as GAR, APICAL, WILMAR, LDC, MUSIM MAS to make their own commitment regarding deforestation. It brought an incredible level of transparency to the supply chain: companies started to publish the list of the mills that supply them. It unlocked innovation in how to monitor progress and measure impact – recently, some brands (Nestlé, Reckitt Benckiser, PZ Cussons) started to use a near real time satellite monitoring system - Starling - to track progress with their suppliers. It also went to scale with more than 400 companies following Nestlé is making such a commitment.
If you seek a good example of what “No Deforestation” concretely did (i.e avoiding the clearance of 15’000 Ha of forest in the Peruvian Amazon) I encourage you to take a look at the case study of the work done with Grupo Palmas, a Peruvian palm oil supplier to food companies. On the “No Exploitation” side of things, many things happened too: tens of thousands of passports were been given back to migrant workers in plantations thanks to dialogue that took place with social specialists in plantations in Malaysia.
But despite all those good things, a “No” remains a “No”. Some say “No” is the word of leadership. I’d agree as it is definitely a good way to say what you don’t want. But what we have also realized in implementing those commitments, is that farmers and suppliers, government, who are being asked to change are asking “what’s in it for me?” In other words, if I am a poor farmer in Indonesia, trying to expand my palm and rubber crops to get more cash for the family, what’s in it for me if I stop clearing land to plant? Also, as they aim at complying with the “No deforestation” requirements, companies have been ending up avoiding the risky areas, the problematic suppliers, exiting them from the supply chain and thus creating an illusion that the overall score of responsibility is progressing while bottom line deforestation remain present at a planetary level and keeps impacting us all.
So today, Nestlé’s announcement is a true game changer. They are moving from “I can’t be associated to these issues” to “I will also proactively look after the health of forests and soils where my raw materials come from”. And I will ensure they, and the people living in/off them thrive. It’s moving beyond the “No” to a “Re”. And it’s logical. To meet this climate commitment, they will need to RE-plant; RE-forest; RE-generate soils. It’s a massive shift in how a company like Nestlé uses its immense power and leverage over what happens upstream: instead of preserving an image it’s about proactively RE-turning value and care to nature and to people, where it matters for our planet.