While sampling Santosha Chocolate to people I’m often asked about the coconut sugar we use and if it’s at all related to the Oil Palm (Elaeis guineensis). Palm oil production is tainted by environmental destruction and poor working conditions. They are in fact two distinct species of palm trees. The coconut palm (Cocos nuclear) however doesn’t rob the soil of its’ nutrients like the African oil palm. Labor inequalities are primarily what the coconut palm has in common with the oil palm. Luckily all of the coconut palm sugar we use is Fair-Trade certified from Big Tree Farms of Bali.
Below you can see the before (F), during (G) and after (H) of a Palm Oil Plantation:
The destruction left behind by Palm Oil production has resulted in significant acreage losses of the natural habitat of the three surviving species of orangutan, one in particular, the Sumatran orangutan has been listed as critically endangered.
Palm oil is an edible vegetable oil that’s used in everything from bath and body products to food and fuels. “As the highest-yielding vegetable oil crop, global production is soaring. Total capacity has jumped by 128% over the last decade to 58m tonnes per year. The vast majority (85%) comes from Malaysia and Indonesia, where the cash crop is held responsible for causing widespread deforestation over the last four decades. Palm oil grows in tropical areas around the equator. Now producers of the cash crop are eyeing up forested areas in the Amazon, Congo and Borneo for new plantations. (Balch, 13′)”
A few years ago I travelled throughout northern Borneo and Sumatra where I saw the devastation caused by palm oil plantations. I stayed with a family who have seen the lands they use for hunting and fishing quickly diminished by the rapid growth of the palm oil industry.
In 2004 a group of environmental non-profits and palm oil companies joined to form the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). Their main focus is to prevent the worst aspects of palm oil cultivation: illegal deforestation, chemical pollution, destruction of biodiversity, water loss, poor employment conditions etc.
As of 2017 19% of global palm oil has been certified sustainable. “To qualify as sustainably certified, growers must prove to external independent auditors that they are compliant with RSPO’s principles and criteria. (Balch, 13′)” Over 90% of the members are in Indonesia and Malaysia. “Darrel Webber, general secretary of the roundtable, insists that the scheme is changing the industry’s mindset. Initially, palm oil companies bought land and thought only about how many bulldozers they needed to clear it, he says. ‘Now, ask any CEO, they actually say, ‘Where can I find high conservation value experts … before I send my bulldozers?’ (Balch, 13′)”
Palm oil production is plagued by poor working conditions and low wages in many parts of the world. To quality for roundtable certification growers must show they provide protective equipment to workers, as well as adequate accommodation. They must also pay the minimum wage and provide healthcare and other benefits. As of 2013, in Malaysia and Indonesia, the palm oil sector accounted for 590,000 and 3.7 million direct workers respectively. Both countries are also in the process go developing their own sustainable palm oil labels. Unfortunately the majority of certified palm oil is mixed with conventional vegetable oil during transportation. Therefore despite the RSPO label, they’ll most likely contain unsustainable palm oil. RSPO’s Darrel Webber explains that this is part of the natural progression and that the end goal is reaching the adequate volume where pure sustainable palm oil can reach the consumer.