Unilever Is Using Geolocation Data and Satellite Imagery to Check for Deforestation in Its Supply Chain



Lucy Handley | CNBC

Unilever is using a combination of advanced satellite imagery and geolocation data to help it understand exactly where some of its raw materials come from for its products, which range from Ben & Jerry’s ice cream to Axe deodorant.

It has historically been hard for the firm and other multinationals to trace the exact origins of those ingredients down to the individual farm or field, according to Marc Engel, the company’s chief supply chain officer.

“When you traditionally look at these supply chains, they’re very long and they’re very un-transparent … You are at the end of it, when you consume your cup of tea or you wash your hair with Dove or you eat a Ben & Jerry’s, you’re at the end of that chain. And then at the beginning of the chain is usually a farmer, or a company that uses the land. And then there’s a whole host of parties in between,” Engel told CNBC by phone.

Palm oil, an ingredient in grocery products from biscuits to shampoo, has become a hot topic, because of the risk of deforestation where trees are cleared to make way for more lucrative oil palm plantations. Unilever has stated that it will “achieve a deforestation-free supply chain by 2023.”

In 2018, Unilever published details of its palm oil suppliers, refineries and mills, and, like other manufacturers, had relied on verification by third parties to certify sustainable sourcing for it and other commodities like cocoa to confirm where crops are grown. “But, as a company, I still don’t know where it exactly came from,” Engel told CNBC.

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