It seems like everyone is talking about palm oil right now. But what’s all the fuss about? It’s a vegetable oil extracted from the fruit of oil palms and used in everything from food to cleaning products and fuel, and is mostly grown in Africa, Asia and North and South America. This may not sound controversial on the face of it, but palm oil has recently become a symbol of all the worst things humans are doing to the planet.
And while the environmental movement to stop its production has been going for years – citing devastating deforestation, the growing threat to endangered wildlife and exploitation of workers – more recently the beauty industry has come under pressure to stamp out its use.
If you’re a beauty addict, or simply own shampoo and shower gel, chances are your bathroom shelves are harbouring palm oil products. But the campaign against palm oil (the production of which is responsible for 10% of total greenhouse gas emissions and the loss of at least 100,00 critically endangered Bornean orangutans) is growing. In 2017, the Orangutan Alliance, a charity that works to reduce the production of palm oil, set up the International Palm Oil Free Certification to help ethically minded consumers make more informed choices.
“Consumers are now wanting full disclosure for environmental to ethical reasons,” says founder Maria Abadilla, “and we are here to provide that choice.”
Global beauty brands are taking note – L’Oréal has pledged to achieve 100% traceability on the palm oil it buys and Estée Lauder has adopted a no deforestation policy where palm oil suppliers must prove no trees were felled in their processes. Lush started removing it from its supply chain in 2008 and says it is still working to eradicate it completely, although it does already have some palm-oil-free products. But critics say big brands aren’t going far enough, and many consumers are now turning to 100% palm-oil-free ranges such as , and .
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Preyanka Clark Prakash and her husband Medwin Culmer co-founded Bloomtown in 2016, after spending two years in Indonesia seeing the damage palm oil production was doing. It’s the UK’s fist-ever certified palm-oil-free cosmetics company.
“My husband and I witnessed first-hand the loss of virgin forest that is home to endangered orangutans, tigers and so much of the world’s biodiversity,” Preyanka says. “The problem with palm is that it’s being planted in such an ecologically sensitive region of the world, which also happens to be rife with cheap labour, corruption and lack of oversight.
“Rainforest is being deforested at a rate of approximately 300 football pitches per hour, and only a small fraction of the animals that live in these forests can survive; many are considered pests. The COP [a UN decision-making body on climate change] estimated in 2006 alone, 1,500 orangutans were clubbed to death by plantation workers.”
Preyanka and Medwin vowed to do something to help. “We decided it would be our mission to create a body and company to offer concerned consumers truly ethical and cruelty-free alternatives,” Preyanka says.
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“We feel that the only way to prevent more virgin forest from being cleared is to reduce overall demand by raising awareness and offering consumers reasonably priced, palm oil-free alternatives.”
Maria agrees, saying consumers can help by seeking out alternatives. “If demand is where change starts, then it’s up to consumers to change the way they buy and vote to promote transparency in the industry.”
If you want to reduce your use of palm oil, scroll down for our pick of 100% palm-oil-free beauty buys. The planet will thank you for it.