The case for sustainable palm oil

By Quirijn Foeken | August 22, 2019
Quirijn Foeken

Palm oil has been a controversial commodity for quite a few years now. The palm oil industry has been held responsible for deforestation in large parts of Indonesia, threatening the habitat of endangered species likes orangutans. There also have been reports on labor rights violations on palm oil plantations. 

Therefore, the EU’s decision to label palmoil unsustainable and ban it seems to be to be a logical step towards ending deforestation. But there are some downsides to these kinds of decisions. Malaysia has threatened to take the EU to court over the ban. This makes sense since Malaysia is, next to Indonesia, one of the largest producers of palm oil. A ban on palm oil will have a negative effect on the Malaysian economy and the livelihood of palm oil farmers.

 Palm oil can be found in a wide range of products, such as margarine, confectionery, chocolate, ice cream and bakery products. It’s also used in non-foods such as cosmetics. Palm oil is everywhere and the reason for that is that palm oil is not only easy to process, but the yield per acre is also much more efficient than other oils such as rapeseed oil or sunflower oil.  Therefore, replacing palm oil with these alternatives will use more land and might cause even more deforestation.

palm oil plantattion sunray-1-1


 The focused media attention on palm oil is an excellent driver for companies and consumers to demand products that are produced with respect for the environment and labor rights. The solution for palm oil is to ‘do it right’ instead of ‘not doing it at all’. There are multiple organizations and certification bodies that are working every day on improving the palm oil industry. Consumers and companies have the power to make a change by adhering to the idea of the triple bottom line: here social, environmental and financial results are in balance with each other which ensures sustainability.

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