Women working long hours for as little as $2.50 a day with no healthcare or pension. Children as young as eight doing hard physical labor, at the expense of school. Toxic chemicals causing serious injuries to workers without adequate safety equipment. According to a new report published today by Amnesty International, that’s the price we’re paying for cheap palm oil. Wilmar International, which describes itself as “Asia’s Leading Agribusiness Group”, is committing systematic human rights abuses on its plantations in Indonesia, the report claims. This palm oil then makes its way into our kitchens and bathrooms via the products of Kellogg’s, Nestlé, Unilever, Colgate-Palmolive and Procter & Gamble, to name a few.
Further evidence, as if it were needed, that the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), of which all but one of the companies highlighted in the report is a member, is a thinly-disguised propaganda effort by the industry to project a greener image. Indeed, three of the five palm oil growers investigated by Amnesty are certified by the RSPO as being “sustainable”—a word at risk of losing all meaning if it can be applied to such circumstances.
“This report clearly shows that companies have used the Roundtable as a shield to deflect greater scrutiny. Our investigation uncovered that these companies have strong policies on paper but none could demonstrate that they had identified obvious risks of abuses in Wilmar’s supply chain,” said Seema Joshi, Head of Business and Human Right at the Secretariat of Amnesty International.
The palm oil that reaches our tables, an ever-present ingredient in biscuits, cakes, crackers and spreads, has nothing to do with the juice obtained from pressing oil palm fruits. The food industry transforms it through processes of fractionation, bleaching and refining. The end result is a flavorless, saturated fat (50-80%) that, after destroying the planet and abusing human rights, is ready to wreak havoc on our health, clogging coronary arteries and increasing cholesterol.
Slow Food encourages people to reject industrially-manufactured products containing palm oil, and at the same time, promotes a Presidium of Wild Palm Oil, which produced in perfect harmony with the environment, and helps protect the forests and the local culture of the Cacheu Region in Guinea-Bissau.
Palm oil imports to the European Union, the vast majority of which come from Indonesia and Malaysia, are big business, with a value of €3.4 billion annually. The industry is deeply-rooted in the supply chain, and products containing palm oil can be found everywhere: from ice cream and chocolate to shampoo and toothpaste. But the situation is not hopeless, and there are alternatives, wherever you are. Together, as conscious consumers, our daily choices can change the world.
Watch the Amnesty International video:
Original Amnesty article here.