Daily ESG Briefing: Unilever targeted over palm oil and rainforest destruction

The latest developments in sustainable finance

Unilever has been accused of buying palm oil from “rainforest destroyers”. The firm, which has positioned itself as a sustainability champion in the corporate world, is the target of a campaign by SumOfUs in which activists will film rainforest fires caused by the palm oil industry in Indonesia. The group says “Unilever is hoping its links to the forest fires go unnoticed”. Meanwhile, the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) is piloting new rules around shared responsibility, aiming to increase the production of sustainable palm oil in Indonesia to meet demand from its members. Currently only 13% of palm oil is collected sustainability in the world’s biggest palm oil-producing country. 

The UN Joint Staff Pension Fund Office of Investment Management has secured A or A+ ratings from the Principles for Responsible Investment for all of its investments. This includes a dramatic increase from E to A+ in its securitised fixed-income portfolio.

The Australian Council of Superannuation Investors (ACSI) has expressed concern over alleged failures by Rio Tinto in relation to the destruction of 46,000-year-old caves at the Juukan Gorge. ACSI CEO Louise Davidson said: “Investors want to understand what changes the company will make to ensure an incident of this nature does not happen again and what accountability there will be for the issues identified.” In addition to the existing parliamentary inquiry into the issue in Australia, Davidson said ACSI members expected Rio Tinto to “provide an independent and transparent review that extends beyond the narrow issue of legal compliance to consider broader issues that reflect company culture, board oversight and any systemic issues within the company”. 

One-third of global mining assets, across 56 countries, could be exposed to an increase in carbon pricing four times greater than the current EU Emissions Trading Scheme, according to research by Trucost, part of S&P Global. It also noted that 27% of mines are located in areas where water risk due to climate change will increase between now and 2030.

The organisers of COP26 have said that they will only accept sponsorship from companies “making real contributions to the fight against climate change”, according to the event’s official site. Specifically, eligible businesses must have committed to cut their emissions to net zero by 2050 or earlier. The two-week event in Glasgow is scheduled for November 2021 after being delayed by the coronavirus pandemic.

Dutch bank Triodos Bank increased its lending to sustainable enterprises, institutions and projects by 4.6% in the first six months of 2020, according to its latest report.