What I didn’t learn is, why? Why is palm oil such a popular crop? Who is growing it? Why are they cutting down rainforest? Could it be grown somewhere else? Why are companies using it in their products? Is there an alternative?
I admire the creators of these pages (many of whom seem to be Australian for some reason) for wanting to see palm oil produced sustainably, but the result of all the statistics and the lists of companies who use palm oil and the shocking photos of dead animals and deforestation is that I was left with more questions than answers.
Some of the pages I found dumbed down to the point where we were just supposed to feel sorry for the baby orangutan in the profile pic (in more than one case I was then asked to make a donation). But after we’ve made that emotional connection the information dries up. Visitors to these sites are aware that there is a problem with palm oil, and they would like to do something about it, but they are not offered any plan of action beyond boycotting it.
A boycott of palm oil, with the best will in the world, is unlikely to materialise. Palm oil is so ubiquitous that even if the entire population of Australia stopped shopping, it would be as ineffective a change agent as them refusing to watch the World Cup in protest at racism in football.
There are websites that do give us information. The WWF website is extensive, and the Unilever website – while designed to promote its own sustainable credentials of course – does contain a lot of useful information if you read between the lines, but the palm oil debate can’t be simplified. Ethical consumers understand that there are too many stakeholders who would be affected by a blanket boycott for it to be considered the ‘ethical’ option.
Doing something about non-sustainable palm oil will require consumers, food manufacturers, producers and governments to work together to increase the percentage of the global supply of palm oil that is certified sustainable.
Consumers need to become informed partners in that process, and just showing people a photo of a cute animal and screaming ‘Boycott Palm Oil!’ is akin to setting the building on fire and giving them evacuation instructions in Sanskrit.