Starbucks under scrutiny for palm oil policy

Starbucks has become the latest major brand to come under fire from campaign groups for its palm oil policy, with a new video urging consumers to boycott the coffee shop chain.

The video is part of an ongoing campaign from the SumOfUs group, which has almost reached its petition goal of 200,000 signatures calling on Starbucks to cut conflict palm oil from its supply chain.

The video highlights that, while 99% of Starbucks coffee is ethically sourced and sustainably produced, the company is still implementing “environment-wrecking” palm oil in its other commodities, such as baked goods.

Nicole Carty, US campaigner for SumOfUs said: “While other industry giants such as McDonald’s, KFC, Dunkin’ Donuts and Krispy Kreme have committed to cutting conflict palm oil from their supply chains, Starbucks executives have delayed action and denied this growing emergency.

“In 2013, facing public pressure, Starbucks announced that it would be sourcing 100% sustainable palm oil by 2015. That deadline has come and gone, and Starbucks needs to hear from us that we won’t wait any longer for responsible palm oil.”

As a member of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), Starbucks earlier this year signed a letter urging the RSPO to enforce stricter standards. However, the coffee giant has since failed to report mandatory data on its palm oil sourcing to the Roundtable.


Used in about half of the products on supermarket shelves, palm oil imports to the US have jumped 485% in the past decade.

The majority of palm oil is sourced from huge plantations built on clear-cut rainforests. Workers, including children, are often subjected to modern slavery as they cultivate the vegetable oil.

Deforestation of peatlands and rainforests where palm oil is grown is said to endanger species such as the orangutan and Sumatran tiger and release greenhouse gases. In Indonesia, for example, peatlands cover less than 0.1% of the Earth’s surface but are already responsible for 4% of global emissions every year.

Previous campaigns

Starbucks is the latest in a line of companies to have its sustainability credentials questioned by SumOfUs. In November last year, Pepsi True was temporarily withdrawn from Amazon after campaigners left over 3,000 one-star reviews of the product, accusing Pepsi of using palm oil in the drink.

January of this year then saw the campaign group target Doritos for its ‘destruction of the rainforest’ and ‘unsustainable use of palm oil’.

Despite these high-profile cases, nearly three-quarters of the world’s biggest palm-oil users have improved their commitment to sustainable sourcing in the past year.

Starbucks was contacted by edie but had not responded at time of publication.

Matt Mace

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie