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If we can’t trust the RSPO who can we trust? Palm Oil Issues…..

November 14, 2016

The RSPO is the Round Table for Responsible Palm Oil and according to my friends at Palm Oil Investigators we can no longer trust them.

I have to say that while I’m disappointed I’m not surprised.

The RSPO was set up by the very businesses and chemical manufacturers who have a vested interest in the palm oil supply chain. Not that it makes them immediately untrustworthy, it doesn’t, but what it does make them is invested in it via their businesses and as businesses exist to make profit and that’s the problem.  Profit trumps everything, even the environment at the moment and that’s not least because our global accounting system has no provision to value trees unless they are chopped down and turned into ‘product’.  I read a great book on this called ‘Six Capitals, The Revolution Capitalism Has To Have’ by Jane Gleeson-White. It’s a good read and has helped me to put things like this into perspective – stops me just thinking of global multinationals as greedy and careless – maybe they just can’t help it…..

Anyway….

Palm oil could be and should be sustainably sourced.

We should not be sacrificing the forest for cheap oil that goes into cheap consumer goods including pretty much all of the fast food that we don’t need and isn’t good for us. I can’t talk, I love a biscuit with my tea every now and then and a bag of cheesy crisps to chomp down on during my commute home from work.  I’m part of the problem and no doubt you are too but I’m working on reducing my Palm footprint and also working to ensure I value what palm I do use such as the stuff that goes into my cosmetics.

The cosmetic industry relies heavily on palm, not just for the oil its self- we barely touch that in its neat state outside of soaping – but as emulsifiers, preservatives, solubilisers, emollients, thickeners, surfactants and humectants.   It’s hard to think of a cosmetic product that doesn’t require or couldn’t use a palm derived additive and that’s also part of the problem – our problem.

We use palm because it is a high yielding and relatively fast growing crop.  It requires little in the way of fertiliser or pesticide so is much less of a chemical burden crop than say Rapeseed oil which often replaces it (especially across Europe where there is now a bee problem thanks to the chemical use).  I had been worried that the only reason palm is so productive is that it is grown on such beautifully rich, virgin soil but a recent study I read looking into palm yields on secondary forest or existing farm land proved to me that I was barking up the wrong tree.

So, the long and short of it is that Palm is still the best crop for the cosmetic industry, we just need to learn how to value it more and how to have it exist alongside virgin rainforest.  A monoculture palm plantation just can’t sustain the biodiversity of the untouched forest and that SHOULD be valued.

With the RSPO’s trustworthiness being called into question we are all left wondering what to do next.

I spoke to Lorinda from Palm Oil Investigators – a friendly chat rather than an interview so I won’t quote her and came to the conclusion that we should not take this news as a battle cry to boycott palm but more that we should use it as an opportunity to push the market towards full traceability.

The on-the-ground mapping of the forest areas has long been a problem when it comes to tracing the crops back to the farm but that has now been addressed at least partially and it is starting to be very possible to pinpoint with great certainty where the palm is coming from, which farm etc throughout the supply chain. This means that no matter what people like the RSPO say it won’t matter because we will be able to see the journey of our palm for ourselves.

As great as all this is it will take time for cosmetic industry suppliers to fully cotton on to the gravity of what just happened with RSPO and to realign their supply chains towards this new, more transparent system.  I think we should support them on this journey and rather than tying everyone up in knots demanding answers to difficult questions now we should just write and show our support for them in investing in this.  The reason that many businesses didn’t go the whole hog of fully traceable palm before was because of business and profit – it cost too much more than the mass balance stuff.  Now there is a greater cost to not doing it – YOU WON’T BUY IT.

So let’s throw our support behind the industry and push them towards doing the right thing so that we can have the confidence in our products and rest in the knowledge that no virgin rainforest died to make our make-up.

That’s worth standing up for isn’t it?

Amanda x

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