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Deforestation, certification, and transnational palm oil supply chains: Linking Guatemala to global consumer markets

CSS Publication Number
Full Publication Date
July 1, 2023

Although causal links between tropical deforestation and palm oil are well established, linking this land use change to where the palm oil is actually consumed remains a distinct challenge and research gap. Supply chains are notoriously difficult to track back to their origin (i.e., the ‘first-mile’). This poses a conundrum for corporations and governments alike as they commit to deforestation-free sourcing and turn to instruments like certification to increase supply chain transparency and sustainability. The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) offers the most influential certification system in the sector, but whether it actually reduces deforestation is still unclear. This study used remote sensing and spatial analysis to assess the deforestation (2009–2019) caused by oil palm plantation expansion in Guatemala, a major palm oil source for international consumer markets. Our results reveal that plantations are responsible for 28% of deforestation in the region and that more than 60% of these plantations encroach on Key Biodiversity Areas. RSPO-certified plantations, comprising 63% of the total cultivated area assessed, did not produce a statistically significant reduction in deforestation. Using trade statistics, the study linked this deforestation to the palm oil supply chains of three transnational conglomerates – Pepsico, Mondelēz International, and Grupo Bimbo – all of whom rely on RSPO-certified supplies. Addressing this deforestation and supply chain sustainability challenge hinges on three measures: 1) reform of RSPO policies and practices; 2) robust corporate tracking of supply chains; and 3) strengthening forest governance in Guatemala. This study offers a replicable methodology for a wide-range of investigations that seek to understand the transnational linkages between environmental change (e.g. deforestation) and consumption.

Research Areas
Impacts & Burdens
Food Systems and Consumer Products
Food & Agriculture

Palm oil



Supply chain risk



Publication Type
Journal Article
Digital Object Identifier
Full Citation

Calli P. VanderWilde, Joshua P. Newell, Dimitrios Gounaridis, Benjamin P. Goldstein, Deforestation, certification, and transnational palm oil supply chains: Linking Guatemala to global consumer markets, Journal of Environmental Management, Volume 344, 2023, 118505. CSS23-09