Palm oil is amazingly versatile, which is why it’s become so popular. It’s an ingredient in food like biscuits and chocolate, as well as shampoo and toothpaste. To meet this demand, a huge industry has developed. Oil palms are grown in many tropical countries, although Indonesia is the largest producer in the world.
But this has all come at an enormous cost. Indonesia’s forests have been bulldozed, replaced with hectares upon hectares of plantations. Palm oil companies are encroaching on local communities and there are reports of violence and people being forced from their land. Meanwhile, orangutans and other species are being pushed to the edge of extinction.
The destruction of Indonesia’s forests is also a global problem. Deforestation is a major contributor to climate change thanks to a double whammy effect. Clearing forests produces greenhouse gas emissions and, with fewer trees, less carbon dioxide is removed from the atmosphere.
Palm oil and peat
On top of this, large areas of Indonesia’s forest grow in deep, swampy peat which stores huge quantities of carbon. Oil palm plantations need dry land, so palm oil companies drain the peat, making it very flammable. Fires can rage out of control, releasing yet more carbon dioxide. Indonesia is the third greatest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world, largely because of deforestation. Whenever fires break out, thick clouds of smoke blanket Indonesia and other countries, choking people and causing major health problems.
For over 10 years, Greenpeace has been making the palm oil industry clean up its act. We’ve exposed how big brands like Nestlé, Unilever and Mars are using dirty palm oil from forest destroyers. Thanks to an outcry from people around the world, many have made commitments to drop dirty palm oil by 2020. But time is running out and companies need to do much more to meet this deadline.
The big brands need to investigate their palm oil suppliers and only buy from responsible growers that aren’t destroying forests or exploiting local people. Pressure from Greenpeace supporters has forced Wilmar, the biggest palm oil trader in the world, to announce a plan to map and monitor its suppliers. If Wilmar sticks to its word, other traders will be forced to do the same and palm oil producers that destroy forests will have no one to sell to.
Together, we can make sure companies keep their promises and protect Indonesia’s forests.