Unilever partners with tech company Orbital Insight to enhance traceability in palm oil sourcing

UK – Unilever, a consumer goods company, has teamed up with US-based tech company, Orbital Insight, to boost palm oil sourcing transparency.

The collaboration is piloting technology that uses geolocation data to help identify and map the individual farms and plantations that are most likely to be supplying the palm oil mills in Unilever’s extended supply chain.

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This approach is touted by the company as bringing a “new level of sophistication to traceability” – one that has the potential to work on a massive scale.

“This means we can get a much clearer picture of where harvested crops are coming from, even down to the individual field. This, in turn, allows us to predict the possibility of issues such as deforestation and, where found, to take action,” details Unilever.

“Better monitoring helps all of us to understand what’s happening within our supply chains,” says Marc Engel, Chief Supply Chain Officer at Unilever.

“By companies coming together and using cutting-edge technology to carefully monitor our forests, we can all get closer to achieving our collective goal of ending deforestation.”

The technology leverages GPS data – aggregated and anonymized – to allow Orbital Insight to spot traffic patterns. Where there is a consistent flow of traffic between an area of land and a mill, it suggests a potential link.

By combining tens of thousands of satellite images with geolocation data and applying artificial intelligence and scalable data science, this new system is designed to provide unique insights by showing the predicted likelihood that a farm or plantation is supplying any given mill.

“We’re now working with Orbital Insight to develop and finesse this into an operational methodology and testing the technology at a small number of palm oil mills in Indonesia and soy mills in Brazil,” Unilever states.

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As part of its partnership- and technology-led traceability program, Unilever has shared the names and locations of around 1,570 mills and 120 refineries (sourcing from many mills) from around the world from which its suppliers source palm oil. These form the company’s “mill universe” of its direct and extended supply chain.

The basis for this palm oil mill list is to increase traceability and is part of the work Unilever is conducting in partnership with its suppliers and Rainforest Alliance using the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) PalmTrace platform.

In 2018, these suppliers declared that they supplied directly or indirectly from around 1,570 palm oil mills, which have been validated based on the methodology applied by World Resources Institute (WRI), Rainforest Alliance and Daemeter.

Unilever further remarks it is actively developing and deploying technologies that have the potential to disrupt and transform supply chain traceability and transparency.

“We are investing in satellite data, geolocation, blockchain and AI, working with major tech firms and innovative start-ups to build new approaches to monitoring and traceability, extending from mill to plantation or crop source,” the company stated.

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