February 9, 2014

There is Nothing Romantic About Palm Oil. ~ Hannah-Marie Martin & Joanne Kelly


With Valentine’s Day upon us, we are bombarded with advertising for chocolate, flowers and all the other products to buy our loved ones!

So, let us look at our chocolate obsession.

According to a 2009 article, conducted by Nielsen marketing research, over 58 million pounds of chocolate candy are sold during Valentine’s week in the US alone.

In a single week, consumers will spend $345 million on chocolate! This makes up more than five percent of chocolate candies sold in a year.

This sounds astounding, but apparently even more chocolate is eaten annually by the Europeans. Almost half of the chocolate eaten worldwide is eaten by Europeans.

But what is the real cost of chocolate?

Let’s talk about vegan, fair-trade chocolate. The issues of dairy and unfairly traded cacao are quite widely written about and understood.

But what about palm oil? Do we know much about this? Or how prevalent it is in romantic chocolate gifts?

The palm oil industry affects all of us, but orangutans are the most in danger by the deforestation it causes. The Indonesian government has admitted that, until recently, orangutans had been deliberately killed at the rate of 3000 a year for the last 25 years.

I have lived in Indonesia and seen what the palm oil industry is doing to the environment, animals and human lives through slave-labor, forced child labor and exploitative labor practices.

There are human, animal and environmental concerns through the use of these palm oil containing products.

Knowing that we are voting with our pennies regarding whether these companies continue to fund palm oil and exploitation is a great step forward. Well meaning conscious consumers, vegans and vegetarians alike have been deceived about the destruction incurred by dubiously using the label “vegetable oil.”

The Sumatran subspecies of orangutans is really close to extinction—there are less than 8,000 individuals left in the wild. Whilst writing this article, I came across a list of members of the Round Table on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). Unfortunately, the (RSPO) has standards so low as to be pretty much meaningless. There are companies on the above list that I have seen blacklisted (on other lists) as being the worst offenders regarding the use of conflict palm oil.

According to the Rainforest Action Network there is currently no such thing as commercially available conflict-free palm oil.

So it is a tricky issue.

While writing this article I removed a company known for it’s stand against using palm oil in it’s products. I later learned that this company was ‘patchy ethical’ and did in fact use palm-oil derived ingredients in their handmade cosmetic products.

So, what can we do?

As a self-confessed chocoholic, I recommend two courses of action.

The best course of action, is to make your own delicious chocolates and cosmetic products whenever possible.

But that is not always possible.

If this is an issue for you, you don’t wish to, or don’t have time for handmade gifts, you could contact your favorite companies and ask them about their palm oil policy. You will probably get a vague answer, if they are not vehemently opposed to using palm oil in their products.

Even if they say that they are committed to sourcing their palm oil from ethical suppliers, be suspicious of words such as ‘where possible’ or ‘cannot guarantee’ in their replies. In such a case, either reply and keep the conversation going, or choose an alternative company to fund.

Even better is to speak to a local producer—face to face if possible. Otherwise avoid palm oil or it’s derivative products, wherever possible, until you are sure about the source.

Consumerism doesn’t have to be a bad thing. We can use the power of choice to the advantage of the earth and it’s furry and non-furry inhabitants.

More and more companies and countries (such as Norway) are leading the way and bowing to pressure over palm oil’s controversial use. This is most encouraging.

I believe if consumers were aware of the impact of palm oil destruction to humans, animals and the environment, we would not want to fund this industry.

Palm oil is in everything.

Only by diligently reading the labels of every shampoo, cosmetic, household product and packaged food items in the shop, especially vegan ones, will reveal which could be conflict palm oil products.

In reality the best way to get involved is to contact your preferred companies, or obtain lists from the Rainforest Action Network in your country of the worst offenders.

You can also join campaigns that range from adding your photo to the petition to stop using conflict palm oil to sticking ‘contains orangutan extinction’ stickers on products in shops to raise awareness.

Either you can be discerning about what companies you buy from, using only ones you know stand against palm oil exploitation, or even better, make you own foods, treats, perfumes and body products.

Homemade products are better for us, better for the planet and cheaper too!


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Assistant Editor: Richard May/Editor: Catherine Monkman

Photo: Lady Drew Photography/Flickr.

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