Consumer goods giant Unilever said May 1 it would back a moratorium on further palm oil deforestation in Indonesia and intended to use only fully traceable palm oil by 2015. The company, the target of environmental protests in Britain and the Netherlands last month, said it would start using palm oil from certifiable sources in the second half of this year as it becomes available and would try to ensure that oil it uses in Europe is certified as sustainable by 2012.

Unilever markets such products as Dove soap, Omo and Surf detergents, Knorr food products and Lipton tea.

"Palm oil is an important raw material for us and the whole consumer goods industry," said chief executive Patrick Cescau, adding that the company for the past 10 years had been trying to "build an industry consensus on criteria for sustainable palm cultivation."

"Now we need to take the next step. Suppliers need to move to meet the criteria, by getting certified both the palm oil from their own plantations and the palm oil they buy from elsewhere," Cescau said. "We also intend to support the call for an immediate moratorium on any further deforestation in palm oil in Indonesia."

Indonesia is this year expected to surpass Malaysia as the world's number one palm oil producer. The two countries combined supply 85% of the world's palm oil needs.

Environmental protesters targeted Unilever on April 21, accusing it of contributing to the destruction of the Indonesian rainforest. About 40 members of Greenpeace entered the multinational's factory in Merseyside, northwest England, where they said they had chained themselves to machinery to halt production. A dozen demonstrated outside Unilever's headquarters in London, with some scaling its external walls, while another 20 held a protest outside the Rotterdam offices of the company.

Greenpeace says the forests of Indonesia, one of the last remaining natural habitats of the orangutan, are being torn down to produce palm oil, used in foods and soaps and as a biofuel added to diesel for cars. The environmental group's Executive Director John Sauven said at the time of the protest: "Greenpeace is demanding Unilever publicly call for an end to the expansion of palm oil into forest and peatland areas and stop trading with suppliers that continue to destroy rainforests."

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2008