Procter & Gamble embroiled in controversy over irresponsible supply chains
Stand.earth investigation reveals human rights abuses, forest destruction in sourcing practices of world’s largest consumer goods company
The world’s largest consumer goods company, Procter & Gamble, is taking the heat after a new investigative report by environmental advocacy organization Stand.earth exposed human rights abuses, and old growth and primary forest destruction, in the company’s pulp and palm oil supply chains.
The report, which came out at the same time as P&G spoke at and sponsored Climate Week in New York City, links P&G to clearcut logging of some of North America’s last old-growth and primary forests in British Columbia and other provinces in Canada, and to human rights abuses in Indonesia.
If it was illegal to damage our climate, Procter & Gamble would be a criminal for making toilet paper out of threatened species habitat and the very primary forests that are our greatest defense against a changing climate. Adding insult to injury, Procter & Gamble is trying to buy a green reputation by sponsoring Climate Week instead of improving their environmental performance.
Key areas of controversy
The report outlines four key areas of controversy linked to P&G’s sourcing of pulp and palm oil.
Destroying and degrading primary forests and intact forest landscapes, including failing to implement enforcement protocols that prohibit deforestation and halt expansion into intact forests, old growth, and primary forests; and failing to commit to time-bound goals to reduce forest fiber in its tissue products like Charmin and Bounty.
Violating human rights in supply chains in Canada, Indonesia, and Malaysia, by perpetuating colonialist practices rather than working to build respectful relationships with frontline and Indigenous communities, including failing to require suppliers to demonstrate that standard operating procedures and independent verification mechanisms are in place to ensure respect for Indigenous communities right to Free, Prior, and Informed Consent (FPIC).
Putting threatened and endangered species at risk, including sourcing from suppliers in the Canadian provinces of British Columbia, Quebec, and Ontario, that degrade critical habitat and put threatened caribou populations at further risk. Canadian federal guidelines show that caribou need 65% range habitat intactness in order to have a chance of long-term survival, and a majority of herds are on a trajectory of decline.
Failing to create transparency and accountability in its palm oil and pulp supply chains, including by relying on third-party certifications instead of developing infrastructure to ensure intact primary forests and threatened species habitats are not in its supply chains; and by failing to adequately meet demands of 67% of shareholders calling on the company to report on how it can eliminate deforestation and forest degradation from its supply chains.
Misleading customers on sustainability
The report also lists several ways P&G misleads its customers about its sustainability initiatives through misinformation about the efficacy of forest certification schemes and the benefits of the company’s tree planting initiatives, among other things.
P&G announced recently it had joined Amazon’s Climate Pledge, and also announced that it aimed to achieve net zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions across its operations and supply chain by 2040 — but its net zero climate targets exclude emissions from its tissue and paper towel products.
P&G simply can’t talk about climate leadership while destroying climate-critical primary forests for its products. It’s recent commitment to ‘net zero’ makes it a poster child for how some companies are using the term to hide business-as-usual forest destruction, and its recent commitment to Amazon’s ‘climate pledge’ calls into question the integrity of the initiative as a meaningful indicator of corporate leadership on climate change.
Controversy = reputational risk
Attention on Procter & Gamble’s risky supply chains is extremely timely given the company’s upcoming annual meeting on October 12, 2021, where activists are encouraging shareholders to vote against key board member Angela Braly for her role in failing to address the company’s supply chain issues. Braly’s effectiveness in her role as chair of P&G’s committee on social responsibility issues is in question, in large part due to her dual role on climate denier ExxonMobil’s board.
Procter & Gamble’s growing number of controversies stemming from its sourcing of wood pulp and palm oil implicate the company in violating human rights, degrading primary forests, and endangering threatened species for ubiquitous products like toilet paper and soap. They also create material and reputational risk for the company’s brand equity, especially among socially and environmentally conscious consumers and investors.
The Issue with Tissue
The release of the investigative report comes more than two years after the launch of the Issue with Tissue campaign against Procter & Gamble for making toilet paper and tissue products from endangered forests and threatened species habitat.
In October 2020, P&G faced an investor rebellion at its annual meeting when two-thirds of shareholders passed a proposal on the company’s forest sourcing and impacts. In March 2021, P&G outlined its plans to investors to address issues in its supply chains for palm oil and pulp. That announcement was met with disappointment by advocacy groups for failing to adequately address the financial threats of deforestation and forest degradation in its supply chains.
Over the past two years, advocacy groups have released several Issue with Tissue scorecards flunking Charmin and other P&G brands on sustainability, created a “blind wipe” video spoofing Charmin over its softness claims, held a protest outside Procter & Gamble’s shareholder meeting featuring a chainsaw-wielding bear, got Santa arrested for delivering coal to Procter & Gamble’s headquarters, delivered a tongue-in-cheek Earth Day messageabout folding vs. wadding toilet paper, released a poll showing 85% of Americans want toilet paper makers to use more environmentally responsible materials, and supported religious leaders in Cincinnati in sending a letter to Procter & Gamble about the moral imperative of addressing climate change.
Stand.earth is an international nonprofit environmental organization with offices in Canada and the United States that is known for its groundbreaking research and successful corporate and citizens engagement campaigns to create new policies and industry standards in protecting forests, advocating the rights of indigenous peoples and protecting the climate. Visit us at www.stand.earth and follow us on Twitter @standearth.