Palm Oil – Produced by Slavery
The Ugly Palm Oil Industry
Palm oil seems to be in everything from chips to cosmetics. It is found in 40-50% of all household products in the USA. This industry produces 50 million tons of oil, supplying 30% of the world’s vegetable oil production.
Until recently I never thought much about palm oil – where it came from, or how it was manufactured. But with the whole natural / paleo food movement, shortening made from palm oil was making a comeback. I decided to do a little investigation into it to see if it was something I should incorporate into my diet. I was pretty shocked by what I found.
Human Rights Abuses
Malaysia and Indonesia are the top two producing palm oil countries. The oil comes from the fruits which are packed closely together between the leaves of the palm tree. In order to get to the fruit, a worker must chop off the branches to get to it. This is grueling work. An average worker dislodges about 300 bundles a day and brings home less than the equivalent of $10 USD. Children, as young as 8 or 9, are made to carry loads of heavy fruit, weed fields and do other types of hard labor for little, or no pay.
Workers are often lured to the industry from long distances with the promise of fair wages and good working conditions. Upon arrival, they often get their passports and ID taken away and are forced to pay inflated prices for food and lodging. With no identification or money to get back home, they are treated like slaves.
Besides the indignities that workers endure, the palm oil industry is literally raping the environment by deforestation and destroying wildlife habitats. According to the World Wildlife Fund, an area equivalent to 300 football fields of rainforest must be cleared each hour to make way for palm oil production. Thousands of animals are killed every year. Over the past 20 years 50,000 orangutans have been killed thanks to this industry. Dozens of animals are facing extinction because their habitats have been destroyed.
Sustainable Palm Oil
There are a few responsible companies who buy their palm oil from sustainable and certified Fair Trade sources. One such company is “Spectrum”. This is the company I decided to buy my palm shortening from.
What a lesson I learned from a simple query into the health benefits of palm shortening.