Three ways to clean up ‘dirty’ palm oil and save the rainforests

It’s not commonly known but it’s widely used. It’s not directly edible, but it’s one of the key ingredients in chocolate, biscuits, wafers, cake, lotion, shampoo and toothpaste, to name just a few everyday items. And it’s called palm oil. Even if you don’t see it – it’s a part of your daily life.

Palm oil is similar in composition to soybean oil, canola/rapeseed oil, sunflower oil or coconut oil. Demand for palm oil continues to rise due to its lower cost as well as some of its attractive properties, including high fat content, as trans fat is banned in certain countries like the United States.

Nonetheless, the process of extracting palm oil can be filthy. To make way for palm oil plantations, huge tracts of rainforest are torn down by bulldozers or illegally burned to the ground. In Indonesia alone, an area the size of a football pitch is lost every 25 seconds. People lose their homes, and species like the orangutan are put in harm’s way.

Big palm oil traders and agribusiness groups are indirectly responsible for rainforest destruction, and they also supply such dirty palm oil to well-known global firms which sell all kinds of daily necessities.

Palm oil in itself is not the problem, the problem mainly lies with where and how it is grown. Some of the world’s largest traders and brands have committed to having deforestation-free supply chains – No Deforestation, No Peat, No Exploitation – by 2020. Therefore, brands have to fix the problem once and for all by cutting off dirty traders until they can prove their palm oil is clean.

Brands have to fix the problem once and for all by cutting off dirty traders

But our investigation [at Greenpeace] discovered that certain global retailers aren’t keeping their promise and are still buying palm oil from suppliers that trash rainforests, with devastating effects on Indonesia’s people and wildlife.

We require, first, for producer groups in their supply chain to disclose the extent of their operations, ensuring the palm oil used is taken from the land leased by the government that gives a company the right to do so; second, traders should exclude producer groups that miss deadlines or refuse to reform; and third, producer groups should obtain independent verification to assure full compliance with “No Deforestation” commitments.

There are still nearly 500 days to go until 2020, and brands have time to turn things around. Customers like you and me need to put pressure on household brands, and let them know that their involvement with dirty palm oil is unacceptable.

Kiki Taufik, head, Indonesia forest campaign, Greenpeace

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