Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Aceh Province: Where “Conflict Palm Oil” really IS a product of conflict

Last summer, Rainforest Action Network, a tireless campaigner against palm oil and its myriad evils, launched a “Power is in Your Palm” campaign that singled out the top 20 companies who use palm oil.  RAN coined the term “conflict palm oil,” which has caught on quite well this past year, since when I was doing some side research the phrase appeared everywhere. I knew what “conflict palm oil” is in Aceh—but were there that many other places in the world where a 30-year armed insurgency has in effect protected the rainforest that now a peace accord and government complicity will destroy?


Not quite.


According to our friends at Mongabay, who always seem to get the scoop ahead of me, these 20 food giants (The “Snack Food 20”) are “failing to ensure the palm oil they source does not drive deforestation or worsen social conflict.”

And FINALLY, as we suspected and reported here at length, “While many of these companies have pledged to source only palm oil certified under the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) — the leading eco-standard — by 2015, the report argues that the RSPO doesn't do enough to protect forests or ensure "conflict-free" palm oil.”  That’s being kind—RPSO does NOTHING--as its members and policy-makers are—guess who?  the companies themselves.
 Charred tree stumps against the smoldering background in an area of recently deforested peatland near Tanjung Baru village, Pangkalan Kerinci subdistrict in Pelalawan regency, Riau province, Indonesia. The village lies beside PT. Pusaka Megah Bumi Nusantara (PMBN) – a palm oil company belonging to the Asian Agri group, a member of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO).

Mongabay reports that “neither RAN, nor Greenpeace, which just published a report called Certifying Destruction: Why consumer companies need to go beyond the RSPO to stop forest destruction, are calling for companies to abandon the RSPO, which offers stronger environmental safeguards than the proposed Malaysian standard. [I can’t believe that’s possible.]  The groups instead are asking companies to establish policies that go beyond RSPO standards. And they are trying to rally consumers to do the same.”

"The RSPO wants its members to be industry leaders in sustainability, but its current standards leave them free to destroy forests and drain peatland," said Bustar Maitar, head of Greenpeace International’s Indonesia forest campaign, in a statement. "Year after year, Indonesia’s forest fires and haze wreak havoc on the region, and the palm oil sector is a main culprit." 

Okay, so for RAN, “conflict palm oil” puts a nice, nasty, negative connotation on the product, which brings it into the public imagination like all good branding campaigns do. The “conflict” in palm oil is that this ubiquitous substance is found in roughly half the packaged products sold in US grocery stores, including favorite snack foods like ice cream, cookies, crackers, chocolate products, cereals, doughnuts and potato chips. “In fact, palm oil is likely present in some form in nearly every room of your home. It is being used as a replacement for controversial trans fats. And now Palm Oil production is one of the world’s leading causes of rainforest destruction. The clearing of rainforests and carbon-rich peatlands for new plantations is releasing globally significant carbon pollution, making Palm Oil a major driver of human induced climate change.Palm oil production is also responsible for human rights violations as corporations often forcefully remove Indigenous Peoples and rural communities from their lands. Tragically, child labor and modern day slavery still occur on plantations in both Indonesia and Malaysia.” 

The removal of palm from 99% of all products would not harm anyone’s health, or negatively alter the product.  

However, it is one of the world’s largest commodities and makes a small number of people wildly wealthy and extremely powerful politically.

So there’s your conflict.

Now move to Aceh province, where a 30-year war that resulted in tens of thousands of deaths also decimated the fertile area on the buffer of the rainforest where generations of cocoa farmers had lived and worked.  The 2004 tsunami, which brought about the peace accord in 2005, meant two things:
--local communities could once again pick up where they left off—with assistance and training—and reclaim their plantations-turned-battlefields . . .
--the lack of armed GAM insurgents and Indonesian military brought out the jackals.  This area, which had been too dangerous to exploit previously, was now fair game to outside investors with bulldozes and government payoffs, and the only conflict these guys had was how many locals had to be thrown off a cliff or shot before the corporations were left alone to rip out the forest.

Now, that’s what I think of when I think of a conflict.
But I won’t begrudge RAN their campaign—if it works, I’m all for it.

The Snack Food 20 — Your Cookie, Indonesia’s Misfortune

Together these companies gross more than $432 billion in annual revenue. RAN believes they have the financial and brand clout to chain how palm oil is obtained, erase human rights violations and stop deforestation in Indonesian and Malaysia — if their consumers demand it.

  1. Campbell Soup Company
  2. ConAgra Foods, Inc.
  3. Dunkin’ Brands Group, Inc. (You know them as Dunkin Donuts)
  4. General Mills, Inc.
  5. Grupo Bimbo
  6. Hillshire Brands Company
  7. H.J. Heinz Company
  8. Hormel Foods Corporation
  9. Kellogg Company (think breakfast bars)
  10. Kraft Food Group, Inc.
  11. Krispy Kreme Doughnuts Corp. (more donuts)
  12. Mars Inc.
  13. Mondelez International, Inc.
  14. Nestlé S.A.
  15. Nissin Foods Holdings Co., Ltd.
  16. PepsiCo, Inc. (snack subsidiary, Frito-Lays)
  17. The Hershey Company (this makes two child labor problems for them, given their cocao sourcing issues)
  18. The J.M. Smucker Company
  19. Toyo Suisan Kaisha, Ltd.
  20. Unilever
So what’s a consumer to do? Read labels and if you see palm oil, skip buying the product. (It’s not that healthful anyway).
RAN would also like the public to send a message to these food companies to cut out the palm oil, and quit cutting down tropical forests.

Next: Global Exchange’s 2014 Most Wanted List Names HBSC as #8 . . . and so well deserved!!!

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