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.
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.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator Scott Pruitt met with Dow Chemical CEO Andrew Liveris before deciding to reverse an earlier EPA decision to ban the company's toxic and widely used pesticide, chlorpyrifos.
According to records obtained by the Associated Press, the EPA boss met with Liveris for about 30 minutes at a Houston hotel on March 9. Later that month, Pruitt announced that he would no longer pursue a ban on chlorpyrifos from being used on food, ignoring his agency's own review that even small amounts of the pesticide could impact fetus and infant brain development.
Native communities and environmental justice advocates in Louisiana opened a new resistance camp Saturday to oppose the proposed Bayou Bridge Pipeline project. Called L'eau Est La Vie, or Water is Life, the camp will consist of floating indigenous art structures on rafts and constant prayer ceremonies during its first two weeks.
Continuing its march toward elimination of key Clean Water Act protections, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Tuesday issued a formal notice of withdrawal of the Obama administration's rule defining which waters can be protected against pollution and destruction under federal law.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is not doing enough to prevent weed resistance to the herbicide glyphosate (Roundup) says a new report from the EPA's Inspector General's Office, which draws in part on a report from the agbiotech company, Pioneer: Weed Management in the Era of Glyphosate Resistance.
When it comes to the latest wind turbine technologies, size matters. A group of six institutions and universities is designing an offshore wind turbine that will stand 500 meters in height. That's taller than the Eiffel Tower and the Empire State Building.
The research team, led by researchers at the University of Virginia, believes that its wind turbine concept will produce 50 megawatts of peak power, or about 10 times more powerful than conventional wind turbines.
Natural gas is often considered the cleanest fossil fuel, but could it actually be dirtier than coal?
Watch as New York Times reporter Mark Bittman, in the above Year's of Living Dangerously video, investigates how much methane is leaking at fracking wells. Find out how the natural gas industry's claims compare to what scientists are reporting.
See what happens when Gaby Petron, an atmospheric scientist with NOAA, converts her van into a mobile methane detector and sets out across northeastern Colorado for two years, taking thousands of readings to uncover the truth.
Adrian Grenier: 'We Must Usher in a New Era of Compassion Through Forward Thinking Environmental Programs'
Adrian Grenier was named UN Goodwill Ambassador earlier this month. The Hollywood actor, best known for his iconic role of A-list movie star Vincent Chase in the HBO smash hit and film Entourage, will advocate for drastically reducing single-use plastic and protection of marine species, and encourage his followers to make conscious consumer choices to reduce their environmental footprint, according to the UN Environment announcement.
"Together we must usher in a new era of compassion and carefulness through forward thinking environmental programs to drive measurable change," Grenier said. "I am personally committed to creating ways in which the global community can come together to help solve our most critical climate crises through routine, collective action.
"The more we connect to nature in our daily lives, the more dedicated we will become to our individual commitments. Together, I believe we can go further, faster in our race to achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals by 2030."
Watch the video above to learn more.