Unilever is piloting new geolocation technology in partnership with US tech company Orbital Insight to monitor its palm oil supply chain more accurately.
The owner of Marmite and Hellmann’s said it was reimagining its approach to traceability to ensure that the land used to cultivate crops such as palm oil fruit and soy isn’t connected to deforestation.
In partnership with Orbital Insight, Unilever plans to use geolocation data to help identify the individual farms and plantations that are most likely to be supplying the palm oil mills in its extended supply chain.
The technology leverages GPS data – aggregated and anonymised – 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.
Traceability analysis of the palm oil supply chain in Sumatra, Indonesia.
By combining tens of thousands of satellite images with geolocation data and applying artificial intelligence and scalable data science, the new system will show Unilever the predicted likelihood that a farm or plantation is supplying any given mill. In turn, this will allow the company to predict the possibility of issues such as deforestation.
The initial pilot programme will test a small number of palm oil mills in Indonesia and soy mills in Brazil.
The new technology enhances the company’s existing satellite monitoring capabilities and follows on from other partnerships. For example, last year Unilever joined a new coalition with players such as PepsiCo and Nestlé which will fund the development of a new radar-based forest monitoring system to detect deforestation.
According to Unilever, this new approach offers the potential to work on a massive scale, for itself and the rest of the industry. By marking a step towards “building a digital ecosystem”, Unilever aims to create a more transparent supply chain as companies face increasing scrutiny over the production of palm oil.
“Better monitoring helps all of us to understand what’s happening within our supply chains. 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,” said Marc Engel, chief supply chain officer at Unilever.
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