Hershey’s Palm Oil Sustainability Journey

By Scott Rownd, Manager of Responsible Sourcing at The Hershey Company
Oct 20, 2016 9:50 AM ET

In my own life I must admit that I am a frequent user of analogies. I believe they help me describe situations in greater detail and relate the struggles, challenges and triumphs of one journey to another. So as I was lying in bed thinking about this blog post, and how to describe Hershey’s journey in the palm oil sustainability space, I couldn’t resist comparing our work to hiking up a mountain.

How cliché right? For me, however, this particular analogy rings true. We started in the foothills of this journey with a commitment in 2013 to source 100% Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) mass-balance certified palm oil. The staff here at The Hershey Company knew that we wanted to continue the social responsibility legacy of our founder Milton Hershey, and this was one way to ensure we were making a difference in this supply chain despite our small purchase volume. This commitment and the subsequent purchases sent a clear signal to our suppliers that we believed in responsible sourcing and were taking a more active role.

Since this early commitment and our achievement of it in 2013 we have released several updates to our responsible palm oil sourcing strategy, including a commitment to trace our supply chain to the mill and plantation levels. This traceability work, done in partnership with The Forest Trust, will give us increased visibility to where our palm oil comes from and ensures it is not coming from areas at risk of violations of our Responsible Palm Oil Sourcing Policy. To me, each one of these updates and commitments was laying out the continued path upwards through increasingly challenging terrain.

I chose the analogy of hiking a mountain instead of a leisurely suburban stroll for a reason. The more we have gotten involved in this space, the more we have realized that this is a very complicated supply chain. In 2015, the palm oil that we use in our products came from more than 1,300 mills, each with its own network of many palm plantations. We have been lucky enough to have been aided in this effort by our suppliers, fellow hikers on the journey towards palm oil sustainability. Each quarter we work with these suppliers to untangle the complex web of plantations, mills, ports and more that make up this supply chain.

We firmly believe the hard work is worth it. We expect stakeholders in our supply chain to be in compliance with the tenets of our Responsible Palm Oil Sourcing Policy, including not contributing to deforestation, protecting areas of High Conservation Value, complying with international labor and human rights laws and upholding the land rights of indigenous peoples. While we are a very small purchaser of palm oil in terms of the global market, we believe our stance and interactions with direct and indirect suppliers are having a positive impact and showing our earnest interest in driving change in the supply change. It’s gratifying then to receive recognition such as World Wildlife Fund’s recent Palm Oil Buyers Scorecard, which gave Hershey a 9 out of 9. We’re grateful to have received this rating, but realize our work is not done.

No hike is without its challenges, and this one is no different. There is still a long way to go in reaching 100% plantation traceability, but we’re working hard with our suppliers to gain that visibility and remediate any issues when found. We also encourage other large companies around the world to take strong stances on responsible sourcing of palm oil, as we must send a united demand signal to suppliers, mills and plantation owners. I know we aren’t yet approaching the highest peak in this sustainability climb, but we march on.

If you are interested in more details about our journey, I encourage you to read more on Hershey’s website and follow our annual Corporate Social Responsibility Report for updates on this and other sustainability work.