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Palm oil is one of the world’s most popular vegetable oils. Used in most consumer goods, this particular oil may be cheap but it comes at a tremendous cost to the environment. Palm oil has been linked to many environmental, animal, and human rights violations yet companies continue to use this particular oil in everything from laundry detergent to snacks and lipstick. It is clear that the world is aware of the many atrocities associated with the palm oil industry, so what is being done to stop it?
Some corporations have signed on with the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil and promised to source all their palm oil from certified, sustainable sources over the next few years. While these initiatives are amazing and could affect real change in the abusive practices of the palm oil industry, they haven’t been all that successful just yet. Because palm oil supply chains can be hard to track, violations made to the RSPO’s standards are a huge problem for some companies that claim to sustainably source their oil. “Lack of oversight has led to the violation of numerous RSPO measures, nullifying their efforts to reform their palm oil policy” (Rainforest Action Network).
Until there is evidence that real change has been made to ensure all palm oil is sustainably sourced, it is a good idea to avoid buying products that contain palm oil altogether. I have some reasons to prove that palm oil should be something to avoid. First, palm oil heavily contributes to deforestation. The palm oil industry plays a large role in human-induced climate change as palm oil plantations have cleared some of the worlds most precious carbon-capturing forests. “In 2009, nearly 30 percent of Indonesia’s reported carbon emissions were the result of deforestation” (One Green Planet). Another Statistic worth noting is “every hour an area the size of 300 football fields is cleared in Indonesia and Malaysia to make way for palm plantations” (Say No to Palm Oil Campaign).
Leveling forests not only impacts the climate but poses a very immediate threat to endangered species that live in these tropical areas. Second, palm oil is driving orangutans to extinction. The fragile orangutan population could become extinct within our lifetime if we continue to destroy their home and natural habitats for palm oil plantations. “In the past 10 years, the orangutan population of Sumatra and Borneo has decreased by over 20,000” (One Green Planet). This sharp decline coincides with a growing demand for palm oil in the U.S. “Between 1990 and 2010, the average quantity of palm oil consumed in the United States increased by 2000 million pounds. Over 98 percent of all palm oil used in the United States comes from Southeast Asia” (One Green Planet). This is a huge problem for orangutans because they only live in rainforests in the Southeast Asian Islands of Borneo and Sumatra. “Orangutans have lost over 80 percent of their natural habitat in the last 20 years”(The Orangutan Conservancy).
Third, palm oil is driving other endangered species toward extinction, too. “Only about 400 tigers are left on the island of Sumatra. In 1978, there were estimated to be 1000”(Care2 Causes). “Sumatran rhinos are also disappearing with population numbers equally less than 200”(One Green Planet). The expansion of palm oil has introduced humans into parts of the rainforest that had been untouched for hundreds of years. As more roads are built and protective trees are leveled, elephants are being targeted at higher percentages for ivory, the material found in their tusks. This is an indirect consequence of the palm oil industry. “It is estimated that only 2,500 elephants remain in Sumatra”(The Ecologist).Fourth, palm oil is an industry that abuses human rights. “Among the 3.7 million people work in the palm oil industry, and thousands are child laborers forced to work”(Bloomberg Businessweek).
Many workers are pulled into the industry through debt or taken by human traffickers. People kidnapped are often treated terribly and work under harsh conditions. Surprisingly, traffickers who are caught face few punishments from government or business authorities. Lastly, Palm oil’s just not good for your health. Palm oil is high in saturated fats. After trans fats were banned from snack foods, many companies began to use palm oil as a “healthy” alternative. Turns out, palm oil is bad for you too. “A study that followed people who ate a diet rich in palm oil for five weeks saw an increase in their LDL cholesterol levels – very similar to what occurs when people consume trans fats”(NPR). So overall, the palm oil industry contributes to deforestation, extinction of animals, and human rights abuse, and overall bad health. I hope that you consider these reasonings to look into what you are buying to make sure you aren’t contributing to a horrible cause.
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