Yum!, the owner of KFC, Taco Bell and Pizza Hut, on Thursday announced a zero deforestation policy for its palm oil sourcing.
The move follows aggressive campaigns by environmental groups that argued the chains were not taking the steps needed to ensure the palm oil they used to fry foods was not linked to human rights abuses, destruction of peatlands, and logging of rainforests.
Under the policy, safeguards for palm oil sourcing would be in place by December 2017. Yum! says it would source from suppliers who barred plantation development in high carbon stock and high conservation value areas, like rainforests and peatlands; had disputes resolution processes in place; offered traceability to the mill level; and avoided underage workers and forced labour. The standards would apply to Yum!'s global fast food business, meaning it applied to all of its restaurants.
The guidelines are on the same lines that it had for paper and fibre sourcing.
Greenpeace which campaigned against the company's pulp and paper sourcing practices in 2012 quickly welcomed the move.
''Yum! Brands' new palm oil policy is a good sign it's listening to customers around the world who want rainforest destruction taken off the menu,'' said Rolf Skar, Forest Campaign director at Greenpeace US.
Oil palm plantations had been blamed for rainforest destruction, particularly in Indonesian Boreo.
According to a study, scientists found deforestation for the development of palm plantations was causing a globally significant increase in the level of carbon dioxide emissions.
Plantation expansion was expected to contribute over 615 million tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere in 2020, an amount greater than all of Canada's current fossil fuel emissions, the researchers said.
Indonesia's tropical forest area, the third largest in the world, was also one of the world's largest emitters of greenhouse gasses due to rapid loss of carbon-rich forests and peatlands, they added.
Deforestation was also blamed for habitat degradation, pushing many species, like the orangutan toward extinction.
The annual global production of palm oil was 50 million tons, comprising 30 per cent of the world's vegetable oil.
According to a report recently released by the Union of Concerned Scientists on the use of sustainable palm oil, Dunkin' Brands ranked No 1 with a score of 70, showing a strong commitment and Subway was No 2 with a score of 38, showing some commitment. Yum! Brands with a score of zero, showed no commitment and was the last.