Maybe you remember the great VICE piece on HBO last year that just exposed Indonesia for what it is: A palm oil republic. Here’s an update at the cool, hip Vice website (maybe too “hip” as hilariously lampooned on this past summer’s Fred Armisen show, “Documentary Now” on IFC).
A selected highlight that points out that there still really is no such thing as sustainable palm oil.
Is there such a thing as sustainable or forest-friendly palm oil? If I’m a consumer and I want to make choices that don’t support a rainforest-destroying industry, what should I do?
Some people would argue that there’s no such thing as sustainable plantation agriculture. Putting that aside, there are definitely ways of producing palm oil that are less damaging, and several companies are generally moving in that direction through zero deforestation commitments, which include important environmental safeguards on top of standards developed by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). First consumers should check to see whether they products they buy are produced by a company that has made a zero deforestation commitment. If the company has, let it know that you approve. If not, then ask the company what it is doing to address deforestation risk in its palm oil supply chain. Companies aren’t likely do to anything unless their customers let them know the issue is important.
What is the mood of activists who have been trying to call attention to this issue and fight deforestation? Are they hopeful of reaching a critical mass soon where everyone from celebrities to the US government is denouncing palm oil plantations?
Generally I think activists have been surprised by how fast companies have taken up zero deforestation commitments. This was all a pipe dream five years ago, but now most companies that trade or consume palm oil internationally have some sort of forest policy in place. However it is still a big step to go from words to action, so environmental groups are now focusing on the more challenging issue of implementation. But, encouragingly, companies seem receptive to dialog on how to move toward greener supply chains.
That said, there is still plenty of deforestation happening for palm oil production. And it’s spreading. For example, companies are clearing massive areas of primary forests in the Peruvian Amazon for new plantations. Community members who have tried to stand up to these plantations have been threatened with death. And investors are eyeing forests in New Guinea, equatorial Africa, and other parts of Latin America for plantations. The palm oil business isn’t going to be controlled by Indonesia and Malaysia forever.