Updated 12/7/2012: Trader Joe’s Responds – What the Hell’s a “Palm Forest”?

An example of a Trader Joe's storefront.

An example of a Trader Joe’s storefront. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Trader Joe’s responded to my email regarding their use of palm oil. It’s flawed and I think they don’t get what sustainable palm oil means. They reference “palm forests”? WTF? What about the high conservation value rainforest that is cut down for the palm plantations? I mean, seriously?

Thank you for sharing your concerns. We have confirmed with our suppliers that they only source from regions where harvesting is sustainable and has no negative environmental impact on the palm forests. The harvests come only from new side shoots of the palm and poses absolutely no risk of damage to the tree and no risk of deforestation to the region where palm is harvested. This ensures proper care of the forest growth to maintain the natural habitat, which includes the Orangutan.

We use palm oil in some of our products since this is the only natural alternative to hydrogenated oils, which is not allowed in our brand. We believe that quality is essential to good value, and that’s what we are all about!

Regards, Nikki Customer Relations

UPDATE:  I sent the following rebuttal. So far no response (and they were so quick sending the first one too):

Thanks for this feedback — and so quick too.

But I’m wondering if your suppliers are underestimating the impact of their palm oil sourcing? Palm oil deforestation results when, first and most importantly, high conservation value virgin rainforests (not “palm forests” as you said) — the habitat of the intelligent and majestic orangutan — are cut down to make way for palm plantations — that many owners then claim are sustainable from that point onward. But it’s this initial cutting-down of the virgin rainforest where the environmental damage is done, and the orangutan habitat (and home of villagers) is gone forever. After that, these precious animals are treated as pests when the orphan orangs try to go “home” and it’s no longer there.

Here is a recent article (and heartbreaking photos) in the UK Daily Mail about this very problem that demonstrate the toll of companies such as Trader Joe’s use of unsustainable palm oil.

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2108875/Orangutans-danger-activists-celebrities-support.html#ixzz1nwF2zX3j

What TJ’s has NOT proved to our satisfaction is that their palm oil is CERTIFIED as sustainable, either through Green Certificates or through the Roundtable of Sustainable Palm Oil. At this point, only about 6% of palm oil is sustainably produced. Without such knowledge, we hold TJ’s as guilty as any other deforesters of the rainforests.

Sorry, but it’s the truth.

UPDATE SAME DAY:  The Executive Director of the Orangutan Land Trust commented on Trader Joe’s reply on Orangutan Outreach’s Facebook page:

 Oh dear! It is clear that they are seriously uninformed. Palm oil does NOT come from new shoots, it comes from the fresh fruit bunches of trees that are no less than 5 years old. There are not really “regions” where oil palm is grown sustainably  unless they mean New Britain, and i doubt very much that their supply is coming from there (the only 100% segregated, fully traceable Certified Sustainable Palm Oil comes from New Britain.) They should do no less than name the supplier of their palm oil, and this can be crossed checked to see if they are certified. Put them in touch with me, and I will give them the information they so sorely lack. As for the yield argument, it IS a valid argument, IF sustainable palm oil become the norm over unsustainable. It has at least 9 times the yield of soy, and one of the Principles and Criteria of sustainable palm oil is to maximise yield per hectare. If companies embrace sustainability and increase yield on their existing plantations, the anticipated clearing of new forests could be minimised.

UPDATED 4/5/2012:  In the wake of the deforestation, destruction, death and displacement (the “4Ds”) wrought by the Tripa fires set on or about March 26, and the legal setback on April 3, tossing-out the WALHI litigation, I was angry and forced the issue with Trader Joe’s (hey, it’s where I get my paper products made from recycled paper).  I wrote this “Nikki” person again:

“100 Orangutans Lost in Indonesian Fires [for Palm Oil"] was a headline I read just yesterday.

http://news.yahoo.com/100-orangutans-estimated-lost-indonesian-fires-165523943.html

The above news angered me so much I went back to the email I sent Trader Joe’s last month about its palm oil use, which was a canned, generic response (see below).

[Insert original T.J.'s email above.]
The Executive Director of the Orangutan Land Trust commented on Trader Joe’s above reply on Orangutan Outreach’s Facebook page (which I posted on my blog):

[Insert Orangutan Land Trust's rebuttal.]
TRADER JOE’S HAD BETTER HAVE A BETTER RESPONSE THAN THE ABOVE, which is riddled with inaccuracies and makes it look as if it is complicit in the death, destruction and displacement wrought by palm oil demand.

My friends, family an coworkers will boycott your stores until we get a suitable response and I have already posted all of my correspondences on my very public blog.

They finally responded today – 4/5/2012.  And it was this “Nikki” person too.

First and foremost, thank you for taking the time to follow-up, and please accept my apology for our delay in response time. We experienced an unexpectedly high volume of calls and emails and we are still playing catch-up – but that is no excuse!

I am sorry that you feel that you received a generic response to your concerns. We take all of our customers concerns seriously and my only intention was to provide you with information regarding palm oil sourcing from our suppliers.

I have reviewed the link and response from the Orangutan Land Trust you sent and also shared this information with the appropriate departments here at Trader Joe’s. I will bring up this issue at our next Product Steering Committee meeting and will touch base with you then.

In the meantime, if you have any other questions or concerns please feel free to give me a call. Thank you again for your time and for shopping with us.

Regards,
Nikki

So, they are looking into it.  And when I quickly thanked her for her response, she responded that she had just read the news of the orangutan deaths.  So at least they’re aware of the carnage.

Sign this petition:

http://www.change.org/petitions/trader-joes-to-sustainably-harvest-the-palm-oil-that-they-use-in-their-products#share

UPDATE 5/15/2012:  Tired of waiting and waiting for “Nikki” to get back to me, I emailed her for a follow up.  Here’s what she QUICKLY responded with:

I have not forgotten about you.  Our Product Steering Committee has yet to meet and once we do I will certainly be in touch.

She also gave me her full name and phone number.  I think I’m in love…(I kid).

UPDATE 11/15/2012:  I’m still waiting for info back from Nikki, who seems like a real sweet (live) person.  She was gone for awhile and is now back, fielding angry emails from palm oil haters.  I sent her a link to the recent murder of a palm oil activist in the Philippines!

Here’s the latest from her, which came on or about October 11:

I’m back now.  Thank you for your patience.  I am appreciate the link.  I will review this afternoon.  I am going to escalate this issue to my boss, Matt Sloan.  At this point I believe you will be able to get better insight to the work we are doing.  He is out this week in our Boston office but I will talk with him as soon as he gets in on Monday.

Still nothing, though.  I followed up earler this week.  Still waiting.  And I don’t buy anything from TJs that contains palm oil or any code words.  But they do sell my paper towels and toilet paper, which is made from 100% recycled paper!  So I’m torn!

UPDATE 12/4/2012:  I got impatient (it’s been over a month now), and wrote this Nikki person to say that I felt I was being “stonewalled.”  Here’s her response.

I am so sorry you feel that way. I do not have an official policy to share with you. We are always looking to do things better….where there is additional movement in this area I will be sure to keep you posted.

All this to say, that I’m afraid we’re not even sure if TJ’s even HAS a palm oil policy.  So make your purchasing decisions accordingly.  Because they have some great earth-friendly products, I will boycott anything that contains palm oil, but maybe not the store itself.

UPDATE: 12/7/2012:  If you haven’t seen my other post, apparently TJ’s gets its palm oil from South America.

After waiting, and waiting, and waiting, I was curious what the TJ’s corporate response would be NOW to a palm oil inquiry, six months after that orangutan conservation charity called “bullshit” (my words) on their previous response. Here’s what a friend received today from her inquiry (it was me masquerading as her, btw).

Thank you so much for contacting us, and thank you for your feedback on this important issue. We do want to let you know that much of the palm oil used in our Trader Joe’s products comes from small scale family farms in South America. These farmers are certified by ProForest, which ensures that they meet strict social, environmental and technical criteria.

With regard to environmental criteria, the assessments are carried out at the landscape and operational level at both the farms and processing facilities. These assessments cover environmental impact on the soil, water, air, biodiversity and local communities. The lands the farmers use are not lands that were deforested. The lands used to grow the palm fruit are lands previously used for agricultural purposes (cattle, rice, bananas, etc).

Still, though, while much of the palm oil our vendors source is as described above, it is impossible for us at this time to ensure that all of our palm oil is sourced this way, and some of it is definitely sourced as a commodity. We definitely appreciate your input, though, and we hope this information helps inform your shopping choices.

WTF!? This is ALL I wanted to know! They get most of their palm oil from South America.  While perhaps still questionable on a certain level,  I was happily shocked that it’s not predominantly from the palm oil plantations of Indonesia and Malaysia that I’ve been writing about for about a year now.  Holy Shit, why couldn’t she have just told me?

Very odd.

However, a few comments have pointed out that it’s still pretty sad that a company can’t vouch for all its palm oil sourcing.  Even if most comes from South America, it’s possible that some might still come from the orangutan killing fields of Indonesia.  I’m going to play it safe.  I just avoid purchasing anything that contains palm oil if I can help it.

This is new information that, if true, is good news for the orangutans.  Hopefully they’re not destroying any high conservation value forestland in South America.  That may be another battle.

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9 Responses to Updated 12/7/2012: Trader Joe’s Responds – What the Hell’s a “Palm Forest”?

  1. Catherine says:

    Hi Soapbox!

    I posted a link to this post in the FB group Orangutan Outreach asking if the TJ response was the least bit valid. Not at all, as you already rightly concluded! In fact, relative to the way things work on the ground, Nikki’s explanation is impossible. I guess companies can make up any old thing, and as long as they close with “quality is essential to good value, and that’s what we are all about” most people buy it. Michelle Desilets of Orangutan Land Trust offered to set them straight, if you’d like to put them in touch with her. Thanks for your rage. Smiley face.

  2. Hi Catherine! I haven’t heard from TJ’s since I sent that rebuttal. I’ll gladly put TJ’s in touch with Michelle. I love orangs and am familiar with her work….

    Yours in rage,

    Soapbox

  3. Catherine says:

    Great. If you are on FB, you should check out the Orangutan Outreach group. It’s a big group with members from all over the world and all levels of advocacy. If nothing else, you could silently glean some fodder for your one man crusade. Rage always, Catherine https://www.facebook.com/groups/redapes/

  4. Pingback: Green: Death of The Forests « This Day – One Day

  5. orangpendek says:

    Hi,

    I wrote a similar e-mail to trader joes concerned that many of their products use palm oil and got the exact same response from “Nikki – customer relations”. They are using a generic e-mail to respond to all palm oil inquiries, which is terrible and they misleading the public on purpose.

    • Hey orangpendek,

      I just sent TJ’s a correspondence that says we’re sick of their canned, generic “greenwash,” demanding more information in light of Orangutan Land Trust’s rebuttal to this mysterious, misinformed lass, “Nikki.”

      (The problem is I get my Greenpeace-approved paper towels and toilet paper (made from 100% recycled paper) from TJ’s, so I’m admittedly torn. They clearly care, but who to trust, huh?….)

      Stay tuned for their response.

  6. Pingback: Trader Joe’s Apparently Gets Its Palm Oil From South America!! | gettingonmysoapbox

  7. Pingback: What companies support sustainability? | palm oil consumer

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