The Price of Palm Oil

Written by Nicole Barker, ESLLC 2016-2017

When people think about what causes climate change, they usually think of fossil fuels and pollution. Rarely do people think that what is in their food or cosmetics is causing climate change. Palm oil is the most widely used vegetable oil in the world coming from countries in Asia and Africa. It is also responsible for rapidly increasing the pace of climate change.

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Unsustainable palm oil is responsible for deforestation, animal cruelty, child labor, habitat degradation, and violations of indigenous people’s rights- five major ethical violations hidden in one ingredient. According to the World Wildlife Fund, an area the size of 300 football fields is cleared every hour for palm oil production. Deforestation causes carbon dioxide to increase in the atmosphere because there are less trees to act as a carbon sink, thus causing climate change to happen at a much faster rate. Burning down forests is a common method used for deforestation which releases immense amounts of smoke into the atmosphere, again making climate change happen at a faster rate. 85% of the world’s supply of palm oil is from Indonesia and Malaysia, two countries with beautiful forests now being destroyed because of this industry.

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According to the Rainforest Action Network, palm oil is found in about half the products at the grocery store. When grocery shopping, please read labels!! Try not to buy items with palm oil, but if necessary, only buy items that are certified by RSPO (Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil). Palm oil is called many other things too; here is a website stating what ingredients you should look out for: http://www.choosecrueltyfree.org.au/palm-oil/.  Buying anything containing conflict palm oil is supporting species extinction. Species like Sumatran elephants, Sumatran rhinos, Sumatran tigers, and Sumatran and Borneo orangutans are now critically endangered because they are being forced out of their habitats. When an animal ventures into a palm plantation, the villagers working the field will often abuse or even kill it. Conflict palm oil is responsible for a decrease in biodiversity.

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According to the US Department of Labor, the palm oil industry ranks in the top four for worst child and forced labor. Palm oil is so cheap because of the cheap labor it depends on. Child labor is especially common in Indonesia because many families face economic hardships. Workers rarely have health benefits, are exposed to hazardous chemicals, and lack rights such as the right to unionize. Another human rights violation associated with conflict palm oil is the displacement of indigenous peoples. Governments and corporations concerned with making money from this industry force the native groups off the land to make room for plantations.

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Next time you go grocery shopping, please keep this in mind! Palm oil needs to be talked about more. I know that reading every label carefully is tedious, but buying anything with conflict palm oil in it is supporting climate change and human and animal rights violations.

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