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Please begin with an informative title:

There is a virus spreading in the tropics; its name is the palm farm. In a number of different countries, vast swaths of forest are being hurriedly razed so that palm oil can be farmed.

All other species must get out of its way or perish. Rainforests be damned. Thy enemy is the palm oil plantation.


For many years, many environmentalists have decried the use of palm oil due to its origins in unsustainable farms. The vast rainforests of Malaysia and Indonesia in particular have been devastated over recent years by its cultivation.

But there are yet more reasons to despise this massive, growing & profitable industry. A recent Businessweek article has exposed vast human rights issues with palm oil as well.

A nine-month investigation of the industry, including interviews with workers at or near 12 plantations on Borneo and Sumatra—two islands that hold 96 percent of Indonesia’s palm oil operations—revealed widespread abuses of basic human rights. Among the estimated 3.7 million workers in the industry are thousands of child laborers and workers who face dangerous and abusive conditions.
Pesek2-1 Debt bondage is common, and traffickers who prey on victims face few, if any, sanctions from business or government officials.

My most common reaction to the palm industry is incredulity.

It does not have to be like this!

So whether you are interested in human welfare, wild animals, a healthy climate, or stopping huge multinational conglomerates, you must take a stand against the scourge that is the palm oil gold rush.

More info, images, and action items below.


You must enter an Intro for your Diary Entry between 300 and 1150 characters long (that's approximately 50-175 words without any html or formatting markup).

All photos by the diarist.


This diary was prompted by a prominent Kossack in this diary.

A few more quotes from the Businessweek article-

A truck with fresh water came once a month, but that supply would last no more than a week; workers pulled most water for cooking, cleaning, and drinking from a stagnant ditch that ran alongside the barracks. Adam says Handoyo confiscated their national identity cards and school certificates, along with a deed to a home, which his village collectively owned.
Other workers say those who tried to escape were punished harshly. One young man made it as far as a nearby river before being caught by boatmen whose livelihood depends on the palm oil companies. Once alerted, Zendrato’s men hauled the escapee back and allegedly beat him in front of the others
Jacob, who worked for two years and claims to have endured esophageal damage and chemical burns from the herbicide, received $100 in total, or less than 2¢ an hour.
It is a shocking piece of journalism well worth the 10 minutes it takes to read the whole thing.


The numbers are mind-boggling an the evidence ample that we are not doing this correctly. Many believe there is no way to grow oil palms sustainably in this climate. The organization created to certify palm oil, the RSPO, has proven to be weak at best, and feckless at worst.

  • Note that the 5th largest palm oil conglomerate cleared $3.2 billion in profits in 2012. These companies are basically printing their own money due to their new-found demand for green gold.
  • We do not need palm oil. It is merely a cheaper way for these companies to rake in their daily millions.
  • Fewer than 400 Sumatran tigers remain in the wild. They and the Sumatran orangutan may have less than 5 years left before they are extinct.
  • Palm oil is hard to avoid. Here you can find some of the names used so you can more easily detect it in food, cosmetics & other household products such as Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, Palmate, Glyceryl Stearate, Stearic Acid, and Sodium Kernelate
  • palmgrove

Palm oil has become the most popular vegetable oil in the world, and 85% of it comes from former orangutan habitat. One in 10 products in your supermarket contain palm oil in some form.  Palm oil is in cookies, toothpaste, margarine, soap and cosmetics.  Unfortunately, many products simply list it as "vegetable oil" in the ingredients so you do not know which plant the oil came from. Environmentalists report that 40 percent of Indonesia’s rainforests have been logged over in the last half-century, mostly to clear the way for palm oil plantations.

The ramifications of this ongoing encroachment into the forest cannot be overstated.

Tropical rainforests also sequester significant amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2) in their growing woody biomass; chopping them down only accelerates the rate of global warming by allowing more CO2 to escape into the atmosphere where it contributes to the greenhouse effect. Despite a partial moratorium on rainforest destruction announced by the Indonesian government in May 2011, analysts believe that nearly half of the country’s remaining tropical rainforests will be cleared within two decades.
Wild male Sumatran orangutan
The UN reported in 2007 that the rapid increase of plantation acreage is one of the greatest threats to orangutans.
Many Americans are being made into unwitting accomplices in the destruction of Indonesia's rainforests—which provide crucial habitat for a number of endangered species like the Sumatran orangutan—because palm oil is in half of all the products on their neighborhood grocery store's shelves.

Earlier this year I spent several months touring Central America and saw that the oil palm has made huge inroads in that region as well. Regulations are lax in many of these banana republics and the giant companies have virtually no accountability to do right by the land or the local people. It is invariably the case the huge profits wind up in the hands of the few, and but a few crumbs of income trickles down to a small team of poor workers who toil under the most strenuous conditions.

I have a personal connection to the animals most vulnerable to extinction as a result of the spread of pail oil over recent years. I hope that we all can work together to end its wave of destruction before it is too late.


Here's the last line of a Bloomberg Businessweek article that exposes the human rights abuses rampant in Indonesia's palm oil sector:

"Adam, the 19-year-old who fled the PT 198 [palm] plantation in 2010, says he hopes shoppers ask themselves a simple question when they consider which oil to buy: 'Is there slavery in this?'"

That's a very good question to ask, but unfortunately most folks are not asking it when they go to the store to do their shopping. While the environmental impacts of the palm oil industry on Indonesia's rainforests get a lot of attention, human rights abuses like forced and child labor are less widely known.

Tell Cargill, the leading supplier of palm oil in the US, that we will not stand for child and slave labor in our food:


Project ORANGS on Facebook
Project ORANGS (Orangutans Really Need and Appreciate Girl Scouts) began in 2006. The goal is to unite Girl Scout Community members and consumers to remove palm oil, an ingredient that harms the rainforest, from Girl Scout Cookies.
Union of Concerned Scientists petition
Unfortunately, even "sustainable" palm oil is being produced at a tremendous expense to our planet's tropical forests since the group that certifies it, the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), still allows palm oil that causes deforestation to be considered sustainable.






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Originally posted to The Laughing Planet on Sat Jul 27, 2013 at 02:01 PM PDT.

Also republished by Science Matters and Climate Change SOS.

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