Boycott palm oil for the love of orangutans

Written by Joanne on January 26th, 2011

Palm oil is a saturated vegetable fat found in many processed foods and household products. As vegans, we scrutinize labels to isolate animal ingredients but we give palm oil a pass – because it’s vegan. Or is it?

The palm industry has taken over Borneo and Sumatra, clearing rainforests and important habitat for orangutans. Each year, an estimated 3,000 orangutans (out of a population of only 50,000) are killed by the palm industry. Aside from destroying the homes of these endangered great apes, the palm industry is relentlessly going after the orangutans and purposely killing them.

I heard an interview on Animal Voices (Toronto) with Helen Buckland of the Sumatran Orangutan Society where she talks about plantation owners telling their workers to bring back the heads of any orangutan they encounter.  The interview can be heard here.

Orangutan bashing: Indonesian activists attending to an injured Orangutan that was attacked by oil plantation workers residents in Sampit, Central Kalimantan in May. Credit: Hardi Baktiantoro/AFP

Yes, this is really bad. But as a vegan who loves my Earth Balance and Dr. Bronner’s bar soap. I wasn’t ready to give up the products that make me so happy. So I set out like a concerned consumer in serious denial, to find my “ethical” palm oil.

My search for environmentally friendly palm oil, landed on RSPO (Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil). RSPO runs a certification program that claims to “meet the world’s most stringent criteria for sustainable production.” This sounds great, except for one problem. Under RSPO, the palm industry is clearing more rainforest than ever and they are doing it legally because the government in charge of these areas really don’t care about rainforests being cleared. Furthermore, an RSPO certified company can subcontract all the dirty work out to other companies and claim no responsibility for any “unsustainable” activity. So in the end, any certified “sustainable” palm oil is still as bad for the orangutans as any other.

In my research I also came across COP (Centre for Oranguatan Protection), a wonderful grassroots organization on the ground saving the orangutans in Indonesia. I learned a lot about the struggle of orangutans by reading their blog here.

I’m over my denial now. I’ve officially given up palm oil and it actually is not that hard! Being vegan, I already read labels like nobody’s business. Now I’ve just added palm oil to the list of ingredients to avoid.

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7 Comments so far ↓

  1. Becci says:

    Very eye-opening, Joanne! Thanks!

  2. Tom says:

    What about this company? http://www.greenpalm.org/
    We sell soaps with palm oil and we buy from a manufacturer who only buys from companies with this certification. Thanks, Tom

  3. Joanne says:

    Tom, I wouldn’t trust it. It’s part of RSPO, an industry lead “green” initiative. Here’s a blog post by activist group COP about RSPO.

    http://www.orangutanprotection.com/indexina.php?menu=show_weblog.php&id=130&lang=eng

  4. keith says:

    Just been reading an article in the UK Daily Mail newspaper showing a sentient ‘ Orangutan clutching her baby and about to be killed by a group of fellows. Luckily Four Paws were on hand to save the ‘ Orang and baby. Its was later released into a safe area ! but I wonder for how long they will both survive !!

  5. Olivia Pendergast says:

    Thank you for posting this. I am just opening my eyes to what is happening to the Orangatuns. I just watched this heartbreaking movie on Aljazeera
    http://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/witness/2012/03/201231483446653151.html
    it is an eye opener and a heartbreaker. I own a jar (for about 5 years) of Wildcrafted Red palm oil from West Africa… I have not even begun to research this market and the consequences…
    THanks…. Olivia

  6. Melanie says:

    I have been avoiding palm oil for a few months now. Once your eyes been opened how??? Can you then close your eyes and, pretend you don’t know or care?? I have been vegan for just under a year and, read every label I possibly can! Palm oil will NOT be a part of my purchases!

  7. Mickey McFinnigan says:

    Hello there, I’m from Sarawak, Malaysia. In case you don’t know our land is also known as the Tropical Rainforest Paradise – Borneo.

    I’m a building contractor, often I travel to rural places for rural development around Sarawak on a twin otter flight, and as our flight fly low, it saddens me to see, our once beautiful rainforest are now being ploughed into thousands and thousands acres of palm oil estates.
    Palm oil estates as far as eyes can see. (I’m not making this up)

    As I traverse across this once beautiful paradise, I can clearly see the rivers, which is the LIFE to the rural indigenous tribes and also to local small town populations, are being polluted by the by products of the palm oil estates (fertilizers, chemicals, diesel run off) and there is simply no water treatment facility allowed at the outlet to ensure clean effluent to the river.

    I really wanted to make a journal about this matter as an eye opener to all Sarawakians regarding the way the oil palm industries run their evil business, without any ethics, responsibilities and accountabilities.

    Voice out your support for me, in this blog, maybe I’ll try to update more pics and insight to show you guys the actual sad state of this oil palm industry.

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