Child Labor Linked to Palm Oil in Girl Scout Cookies, Snack Brands
Tens of thousands of children in Indonesia and Malaysia work to harvest the palm oil that ends up in several beloved Western snacks, including Girl Scout cookies.
An in-depth Associated Press report published recently used U.S. customs records and the most up-to-date information from producers, traders and buyers to link palm oil harvested using child labor to major brands including Nestle, Unilever, Kellogg's, PepsiCo and Ferrero, one of two makers of Girl Scout Cookies.
"I thought Girl Scouts was supposed to be about making the world a better place," 14-year-old Girl Scout Olivia Chaffin told The Associated Press. "But this isn't at all making the world better."
Palm oil took off as a global commodity around 20 years ago after health warnings about trans fats caused food manufacturers to switch to the extremely cheap oil. It is now in about half of all supermarket products and almost 75 percent of cosmetics, but appears on labels under more than 200 different names.
Campaigners in the past have raised concerns about the oil's environmental impact. Around 85 percent of the industry is fed by plantations in Malaysia and Indonesia. Rainforests are often cleared to make way for palm oil plantations in the two countries and elsewhere, and this has a devastating impact on many species, including orangutans. A recent study found that 50 percent of deforestation in Borneo between 2005 and 2015 was linked to palm oil.
Child labor is another major problem for the industry, according to The Associated Press. The UN's International Labor Organization estimates that 1.5 million children aged 10 to 17 work in Indonesia's agricultural industry, of which palm oil is the dominant crop. In Malaysia, a 2018 study found that more than 33,000 children work in the industry, and that almost half of them are between the ages of five and 11.
Children working on these plantations face hazards like exposure to chemicals and pesticides, and many are denied proper healthcare and the chance at an education. In Malaysia, where the industry is mostly staffed by foreign workers, children without proper immigration papers are even more vulnerable to exploitation and abuse.
"For 100 years, families have been stuck in a cycle of poverty and they know nothing else than work on a palm oil plantation," Kartika Manurung, who has published reports on labor issues on Indonesian palm oil plantations, told The Associated Press. "When I … ask the kids what they want to be when they grow up, some of the girls say, 'I want to be the wife of a palm oil worker.'"
Environmental concerns first motivated then-11-year old Chaffin to investigate the source of the palm oil in the Girl Scout cookies she sold. Chaffin, who had earned a badge for selling more than 600 boxes of cookies, saw that the palm oil listed on the cookie boxes was supposed to come from sustainable sources. However, she looked closer and saw the word "mixed", which meant that sustainable and non-sustainable sources had been combined in the cookie recipe.
She swore off cookie-selling and launched a petition one year ago urging Girl Scouts to abandon palm oil.
"Some of my fellow girl scouts and I are boycotting Girl Scout cookie sales until palm oil is replaced with a completely sustainable oil," she wrote. "Please sign my petition because the rainforest is a very important part of life."
Chaffin told The Associated Press that learning about the child labor issues made her more motivated to fight for the oil's removal.
Girl Scout cookies are made by two U.S. bakers: Little Brownie Bakers in Kentucky and ABC Bakers in Virginia. Little Brown Bakers says its palm oil is from "mixed" sources, which means as little as one percent might be sustainable. ABC Bakers puts money towards promoting sustainable production. These bakeries belong to two parent companies, Weston Foods of Canada and Ferrero of Italy. Weston Foods would not provide any details of its supply chain, making it impossible for The Associated Press to determine if child labor was used by any of its suppliers.
The Girl Scouts did not respond to The Associated Press before the study was published, but did address the article on social media.
"Child labor has no place in Girl Scout Cookie production. Our investment in the development of our world's youth must not be facilitated by the under-development of some," the organization tweeted.
They said that their bakers and the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) should take action if standards were being violated.
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<div id="dadb2" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="aa2ad8cb566c9b4b6d2df2693669f6f9"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1357796504740761602" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">🚨Cute baby alert! Wisdom's chick has hatched!!! 🐣😍 Wisdom, a mōlī (Laysan albatross) and world’s oldest known, ban… https://t.co/Nco050ztBA</div> — USFWS Pacific Region (@USFWS Pacific Region)<a href="https://twitter.com/USFWSPacific/statuses/1357796504740761602">1612558888.0</a></blockquote></div>
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theDOCK aims to innovate the Israeli maritime sector. Pexels<p>The UN hopes that new investments in ocean science and technology will help turn the tide for the oceans. As such, this year kicked off the <a href="https://www.oceandecade.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030)</a> to galvanize massive support for the blue economy.</p><p>According to the World Bank, the blue economy is the "sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, improved livelihoods, and jobs while preserving the health of ocean ecosystem," <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0160412019338255#b0245" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Science Direct</a> reported. It represents this new sector for investments and innovations that work in tandem with the oceans rather than in exploitation of them.</p><p>As recently as Aug. 2020, <a href="https://www.reutersevents.com/sustainability/esg-investors-slow-make-waves-25tn-ocean-economy" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Reuters</a> noted that ESG Investors, those looking to invest in opportunities that have a positive impact in environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues, have been interested in "blue finance" but slow to invest.</p><p>"It is a hugely under-invested economic opportunity that is crucial to the way we have to address living on one planet," Simon Dent, director of blue investments at Mirova Natural Capital, told Reuters.</p><p>Even with slow investment, the blue economy is still expected to expand at twice the rate of the mainstream economy by 2030, Reuters reported. It already contributes $2.5tn a year in economic output, the report noted.</p><p>Current, upward <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/-innovation-blue-economy-2646147405.html" target="_self">shifts in blue economy investments are being driven by innovation</a>, a trend the UN hopes will continue globally for the benefit of all oceans and people.</p><p>In Israel, this push has successfully translated into investment in and innovation of global ports, shipping, logistics and offshore sectors. The "Startup Nation," as Israel is often called, has seen its maritime tech ecosystem grow "significantly" in recent years and expects that growth to "accelerate dramatically," <a href="https://itrade.gov.il/belgium-english/how-israel-is-becoming-a-port-of-call-for-maritime-innovation/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">iTrade</a> reported.</p><p>Driving this wave of momentum has been rising Israeli venture capital hub <a href="https://www.thedockinnovation.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">theDOCK</a>. Founded by Israeli Navy veterans in 2017, theDOCK works with early-stage companies in the maritime space to bring their solutions to market. The hub's pioneering efforts ignited Israel's maritime technology sector, and now, with their new fund, theDOCK is motivating these high-tech solutions to also address ESG criteria.</p><p>"While ESG has always been on theDOCK's agenda, this theme has become even more of a priority," Nir Gartzman, theDOCK's managing partner, told EcoWatch. "80 percent of the startups in our portfolio (for theDOCK's Navigator II fund) will have a primary or secondary contribution to environmental, social and governance (ESG) criteria."</p><p>In a company presentation, theDOCK called contribution to the ESG agenda a "hot discussion topic" for traditional players in the space and their boards, many of whom are looking to adopt new technologies with a positive impact on the planet. The focus is on reducing carbon emissions and protecting the environment, the presentation outlines. As such, theDOCK also explicitly screens candidate investments by ESG criteria as well.</p><p>Within the maritime space, environmental innovations could include measures like increased fuel and energy efficiency, better monitoring of potential pollution sources, improved waste and air emissions management and processing of marine debris/trash into reusable materials, theDOCK's presentation noted.</p>
theDOCK team includes (left to right) Michal Hendel-Sufa, Head of Alliances, Noa Schuman, CMO, Nir Gartzman, Co-Founder & Managing Partner, and Hannan Carmeli, Co-Founder & Managing Partner. Dudu Koren<p>theDOCK's own portfolio includes companies like Orca AI, which uses an intelligent collision avoidance system to reduce the probability of oil or fuel spills, AiDock, which eliminates the use of paper by automating the customs clearance process, and DockTech, which uses depth "crowdsourcing" data to map riverbeds in real-time and optimize cargo loading, thereby reducing trips and fuel usage while also avoiding groundings.</p><p>"Oceans are a big opportunity primarily because they are just that – big!" theDOCK's Chief Marketing Officer Noa Schuman summarized. "As such, the magnitude of their criticality to the global ecosystem, the magnitude of pollution risk and the steps needed to overcome those challenges – are all huge."</p><p>There is hope that this wave of interest and investment in environmentally-positive maritime technologies will accelerate the blue economy and ESG investing even further, in Israel and beyond.</p>
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