Chocolate and cosmetic brands stand up against palm oil


Cadbury New Zealand follow Lush Cosmetics by aiming to eradicate palm oil from their products.

Cadbury New Zealand seem to have bowed to their consumers who were in outcry over a decision in June to replace the cocoa butter in their bars with various vegetable fats, including palm oil. The level of outrage apparently even caused Auckland Zoo to take Cadbury's products off their shelves.

Lush's soaps have been palm oil free - although they admit there may be some ingredients, such as surfactants which still contain the offending oil - for over a year and have recently launched a forceful shop-front attack on Sinar Mas who are widely recognised as one of the major protagonists of Asia's rainforest destruction. Sinar Mas are currently trying to expand their logging and palm oil operations in and around Bukkit Tigapuluh National Park, home to a number of Orang Rimba and Talan Mamak tribes, as well as Sumatran tigers, elephants and orangutans.

picture of two young orangutans playing in a treeGreenpeace forest campaigner Ian Duff says: “When Sinar Mas clear forest and peatland for new palm oil plantations they release thousands of tonnes of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and make the prospect of beating climate change much harder."

The fact that we are even talking about chocolate and cosmetic companies in the same breath begins to show the diversity of products that palm oil is found in. Estimates suggest that it's in 1 in 10 items in a supermarket, and it's especially prevalent in processed foods.

Orphaned orangutans, Borneo, Andy Bingham



Perhaps consumer power is the only way to really effect change? Maybe the willingness to do the "right thing" is just a fanciful notion? Pleading ignorance to it given the amount of exposure its had seems far-fetched.

So Lush is using the long sword of consumer power to make a point. This latest campaign which ran in the UK a few weeks ago and is going on this week in North America sees a new brand of soap released, "Jungle", with all proceeds from the sales going to the Rainforest Foundation - who are working to protect the future of the Orang Rimba and other indigenous people in the area. All good news for campaign groups around the world as Rainforest Foundation spokesperson Petra Fleischer says: “The basic rights of forest-dependent communities all across the world are threatened by palm oil plantations, land theft and resource exploitation. We are therefore urging people in the UK to take a stand on behalf of these marginalised communities and make their voices heard.”

Andrew Butler, Lush campaigns manager, says: “Last year I spent time in Sumatran forests talking to members of the Orang Rimba tribe, who have seen their forest homes destroyed to make way for palm oil plantations. They are asking for the help of people in the UK to save their homes and way of life – it is up to all of us to stop companies like Sinar Mas who are intent on cutting down forests to produce paper and palm oil.”

Palm oil is an incredibly high yielding crop and in recent years its growth has been virtually unchecked as the global food market rejected animal fats in favour of the vegetable varieties from sources such as rape (canola), sunflower and of course, palm oil.

Unfortunately this comes at a cost for forests, particularly in SE Asia, where land is cleared to make way for the monstrous plantations. Supporters of palm oil point to the economic impact it has had on countries like Indonesia and Malaysia and also its usefulness in the fight against climate change for its carbon capturing capabilities and biofuel opportunities. But don't - necessarily - believe the hype. A few weeks ago we reported that palm oil plantations are nowhere near as effective as forest for storing carbon and World Agroforestry Centre scientists recommend that plantations should only be established in shrub and grassland areas that store less than 40 tons of carbon per hectare.

We'll update you soon on how Lush's campaign is being received by consumers around the world.