Quantcast
Food

How Food With Palm Oil is Wiping Out Orangutans and Enslaving Workers

By Piper Hoffman

Adam," a poor 19-year-old Indonesian, found a job driving trucks for a palm oil plantation that paid $6 a day. The foreman picked him up for a three-week, two-thousand mile journey to the worksite in Borneo. Along the way the terms of employment changed: Adam wouldn't be paid for two years, and in the meantime he would have to borrow money from the employer for his food and housing. Workers who ran away from the company were dragged back and beaten. Adam had become a slave laborer, as Businessweek's Benjamin Skinner reports.

The palm oil Adam is made to harvest ends up in about half the products in your local grocery store.

Clearing tropical rainforests to to plant oil palm trees, obliterates the homes of endangered species like orangutans. Photo credit: Care2

Palm oil producers in Indonesia and Malaysia rely on forced and child labor, but poverty-stricken Asians aren't their only victims. They also clear tropical rainforests to plant their oil palm trees, obliterating the homes of endangered species like orangutans, pygmy elephants and Sumatran tigers.

Only 60,000 or fewer orangutans are left in the wild. Orangutan Foundation International says they will go extinct without “drastic intervention." They aren't able to bounce back quickly from mass deaths: females don't reach sexual maturity until they are 10 or 15 years old. They usually give birth to only one baby at a time, whom they nurse for about 3.5 years before they become pregnant again. More than 50% of orangutans now live “outside of protected areas, in forests under management by timber, palm oil and mining companies," World Wildlife Fund reports.

Not all palm oil comes from environmental destruction and worker exploitation, but food manufacturers have no way to distinguish humane and sustainable palm oil from the kind that is destroying human and animal lives. Cargill and other companies that supply the manufacturers combine palm oil from all sources, so even if manufacturers want to favor conscientious producers, they can't.

The Rainforest Action Network has launched a campaign called The Last Stand of the Orangutan to address the problem by targeting the biggest manufacturers of palm-oil-laced snacks. The goal is for those businesses to pressure suppliers to separate out sustainable palm oil so they can buy it exclusively.

A boycott won't work. For one thing, the behemoth corporations that make foods with palm oil make such an overwhelming number of the items in grocery stores, including not just food but household and personal care products as well, that it would be impractical to steer clear of them. For another, shoppers can't tell from reading the ingredients whether a product contains palm oil. It is disguised under different names, including vegetable oil, glyceryl stearate, and palmityl alcohol. For a more complete list of palm oil's aliases, visit Say No to Palm Oil.

Contact the companies that have palm oil in their products. Rainforest Action Network has identified the following corporations as priorities. For a list of chocolates produced without slave labor visit the Food Empowerment Project.

Show Comments ()

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Sponsored
Climate
Global warming in Iceland. Getty Images

Arctic Warming Amplifies Extreme Weather Events Globally: Wildfires, Flooding Likely to Be More Severe

Warming in the Arctic is causing the jet stream, a belt of air held "up" around the Arctic by the temperature difference between the Arctic and warmer climates, to weaken and slow.

Keep reading... Show less
Popular
DWalker44 / Getty Images

Tons of Plastic Trash Enter the Great Lakes Every Year – Where Does It Go?

By Matthew J. Hoffman

Awareness is rising worldwide about the scourge of ocean plastic pollution, from Earth Day 2018 events to the cover of National Geographic magazine. But few people realize that similar concentrations of plastic pollution are accumulating in lakes and rivers. One recent study found microplastic particles—fragments measuring less then five millimeters—in globally sourced tap water and beer brewed with water from the Great Lakes.

Keep reading... Show less
Science
Gorancakmazovic / Getty Images

Blotting Out the Sun to Save the Earth? Seriously?

By Jeff Turrentine

Science fiction doesn't always stay fictional. Space exploration, robots and self-driving cars are just a few of the modern-day wonders that once existed only as plot devices or fantastical theories. Our capacity for turning science-fictional notions into the stuff of everyday life has grown with each new generation of scientists and microchips, such that more and more ideas previously deemed too far "out there" are now actually here, or at least technologically plausible.

Keep reading... Show less
Climate
Flames of the Simi Valley fire ravage a Southern California mountain side on Oct. 29, 2012. U.S. Air Force / Senior Master Sgt. Dennis W. Goff

'Hothouse Earth' Co-Author Says 'People Will Look Back on 2018 as the Year When Climate Reality Hit'

By Jessica Corbett

Amid a flurry of "breathless headlines" about warnings in a new study that outlines a possible "Hothouse Earth" scenario, one co-author optimistically expressed his belief that "people will look back on 2018 as the year when climate reality hit."

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Popular
Kodachrome25 / Getty Images

Roof-to-Garden: How to Irrigate with Rainwater

By Brian Barth

The average American household uses about 320 gallons of water per day, a third for irrigation and other outdoor uses. Collecting the water flowing down your downspouts in rainstorms so you can use it to irrigate in dry periods is often touted as a simple way to cut back. But setting up a functional rainwater irrigation system—beyond the ubiquitous 55-gallon barrels under the downspout, which won't irrigate much more than a flower bed or two—is a fairly complicated DIY project.

Keep reading... Show less
Health
A family wears face masks as they walk through the smoke filled streets after the Thomas wildfire swept through Ventura, California on Dec. 6, 2017. MARK RALSTON / AFP / Getty Images

How to Protect Your Children From Wildfire Smoke

By Cecilia Sierra-Heredia

We're very careful about what our kids eat, but what about the air they breathe?

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Health
Hero Images / Getty Images

Study: Children Have Better Nutrition When They Live Near Forests

Spending time in nature is known to boost mental and emotional health. Now, a new global study has found that children in 27 developing nations tend to have more diverse diets and better nutrition when they live near forests.

The paper, published Wednesday in Science Advances, provides evidence that forest conservation can be an important tool in promoting better nutrition in developing countries, rather than clear-cutting forests for more farmland.

Keep reading... Show less
Health
Navy torpedo bomber spraying DDT just above the trees in Goldendale, WA in 1962. USDA Forest Service

Maternal DDT Exposure Linked to Increased Autism Risk

A study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry Thursday found that mothers exposed to the banned pesticide DDT were nearly one-third more likely to have children who developed autism, Environmental Health News reported.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

mail-copy

The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!