Is Sustainable Palm Oil Sourcing Possible?
One of the growing issues concerning sustainability is the production of palm oil.
Palm oil is found in 1 of 10 products in grocery stores, and this list of items includes toothpaste, baby food, deodorant, chocolate, shampoo, and many other products. Derived from the fruit of the palm tree, palm oil has excellent cooking properties, increases the shelf life of food, and is relatively tasteless and odorless which makes it easy to incorporate in a variety of recipes. The crop has the highest yield when compared to other vegetable oils, and can even be used as fuel in a number of applications.
Although there are a variety of benefits of using palm oil, they are often outweighed by the environmental damage and human rights violations caused by its production and cultivation.
The production of palm oil is directly linked to deforestation. Massive amounts of untouched forest have been cleared in order to make space for palm oil plantations, and this is largely performed without the consent of local communities. One of the most recent examples of this being found in Liberia, where new palm oil plantations are causing some locals to be displaced from their land. In addition to the environmental damage caused by palm oil’s production, many plantations in Indonesia continue to use forced labor and child labor to harvest the crop.
However, because palm trees produce a 4 to 10 times higher yield than other vegetable oil crops given the same amount of land, stopping the production of palm oil in place of another vegetable oil would lead to even greater amounts of deforestation. This predicament is what is leading many NGOs and activist groups (such as Amnesty International) to increase their focus on ensuring the sustainable sourcing of palm oil. Since palm oil is so commonly used in products, sustainable sourcing is not an easy task. On the other hand, due to the continued issues caused by palm oil’s production, responsible sourcing has never been more important.
The urgency to source palm oil in a sustainable manner is caused in part by increased public awareness. Consumers are expecting companies to buy their supplies from ethical and transparent suppliers. This way they will know that their purchases will not in turn fund the continued deforestation and human rights abuses caused by the manufacturing of this type of oil. This increased public awareness is creating new market trends that are requiring companies to adapt and take the extra steps necessary to ensure their palm oil products are coming from sustainable sources.
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