What's the problem with Palm?
Updated: Mar 31
When I was about nine or ten years old, my parents took my brother and me on holiday to Weymouth in Dorset. Among various other holiday pursuits, such as buying us matching Ninja Turtles pajamas, our parents took us on a trip to Monkey World. The site itself was still relatively new (please don't try and gauge my age by this comment!) But I remember being captivated by my first ever experience of seeing these beautiful creatures up close in real life. I also remember being captivated by the zip line that they had in the Children's play park and to be honest, I wouldn't turn down a go on it even now! But that is not the point of this post!
I remember watching these amazing creatures playing and seeing how much like us they really were. The Chimps certainly fought in much the same way that my brother and I did, especially if there was food involved! Before we left, there was the traditional trip to the gift shop where my parents kindly let us both pick out a cuddly toy to take home. I chose a brown and cream Monkey, I would love to tell you what specific breed of Monkey it was, but to be honest, I am not too sure! I remember how much I loved that stuffed piece of fluff though! I named him "Trauma", which to an adult, may seem a strange choice of name. In my defense, I was a naive child and had no clue that I had just named my soft toy after a word commonly used to describe a devastating life event - I honestly thought I had made the word up in my own brain!
Years later, I returned to Monkey World with Wayne. It was a spur of the moment trip that we made one day, because we had nothing better to do! It took us near on 4 hours to drive there, but it was definitely worth it! We spent hours wandering around the site, learning about each individual species and watching the Monkeys and Apes interacting with each other, but the enclosure that really tugged at both of our heart strings was the Orangutan enclosure. We decided to attend a talk by one of the keepers of the Orangutan house and I remember being amazed to see Wayne crying real, actual man tears as the keeper told us about the conditions that some of the poor Ape's we saw in front of us had been kept in. It was genuinely heart breaking. Looking at the Orangutan's, their faces seemed to reflect such emotion and understanding. Another species, yes, but really not so far from our own.
The legendary, late Jim Cronin built "Monkey World" in Dorset as a safe haven for abused and mistreated Monkeys & Apes from across the World. His Wife Alison and friend Jeremy Keeling continue his work to this day.
It was no surprise then, that years later when we decided to make and sell soap, that the number one factor at the very top of our list of what we wanted for our brand was centred around Orangutan's. No palm oil! Palm oil is all too common in soaps (it is all too common in many products to be honest, but I am going to focus on soap here or I will be off on a tangent!) As well as being a common constituent of very many cheap, mass produced soaps, it is actually used a fair bit in the more luxury, handmade ranges too. I watch many soap making videos and read many soap recipes and it is amazing how many people do use it. I have even seen soap makers say that you can't make a nice, hard soap without it, which is of course, a ridiculous statement. The only slight positive I can say here is that it is generally soap makers across the pond who like to advocate the use of Palm Oil, it does seem to be used a lot less by artisan soap makers here in the UK and I know of some beautiful UK based brands that like us, do not use it at all.
Many of you reading this are probably wondering what the problem is with Palm oil anyway and why we wouldn't just use responsibly sourced Palm oil instead. The environmental damage caused by Palm oil seems to be getting highlighted by the media quite regularly now, but we do still have people who attend our shows who ask us what is wrong with using Palm oil because they genuinely are not sure.
Palm oil is used in so many products because it is a relatively cheap oil to produce and sell. It also has a shelf life that is longer than many other oils, so products will last longer. If this was all about money, then Palm oil would be the King (or Queen) and we wouldn't be having this conversation!
But it isn't all about money, it's about ethics and sustainability and caring for a World that includes animals other than human beings. Most Palm oil plantations are located in Malaysia and Indonesia. Areas that were once filled with tropical jungles and rainforests are being filled with Palm oil crops. Deforestation is happening at an alarmingly quick rate and huge areas are being destroyed. Between 1990 and 2015 official figures from the Indonesian government state that 24 million hectares of rain forest were destroyed to make way for Palm oil plantations - that's an area much the same in size as the whole of the UK! These forests are the home to many endangered species, including (but not limited to) Orangutans. Once the forests are chopped down and burned, the Orangutans habitat is gone and unfortunately this pushes an already critically endangered species one step closer to extinction. This cycle of deforestation and planting of Palm oil crops has also been linked to climate change and an increase in greenhouse gas emissions.
No one can deny that what is happening is horrible, so you may initially be pleased to hear that you can now purchase "Responsibly sourced Palm oil". Unfortunately, as with many things in life, this "responsible" palm oil is not really all it is cracked up to be. The "Roundtable On Sustainable Palm Oil" (RSPO for short) was set up in 2004 and was intended to be a source of Palm oil that was certified as coming from sustainable sources. Sadly it wasn't until November 2018 that the RSPO banned members from chopping down forests to make way for Palm oil plantations and this rule is still not being enforced today. In addition to this, in Indonesia in the middle of the last decade, fires ripped through Palm Oil plantations. Around three-quarters of these fires were on land used for responsible Palm oil, which in turn is contributing to an environmental crisis in Indonesia.
Unfortunately, just a little research highlights the fact that the RSPO is not as responsible as it may like you to believe that it is. The Environmental Investigation Agency has reported that within the RSPO, companies auditing the plantations are not picking up on violations and in some cases are even acting with RSPO plantations to deliberately hide instances of non-compliance. There are numerous other harrowing stories of enforced labour and child labour within the RSPO industry, which have been documented by outside investigators.
Any of you who have attended one of the shows we exhibit at will have met "Maurice"! Named after the Orangutan in "Planet Of The Apes", he is undoubtedly the coolest member of our team!
So, in a rather large nutshell, this is why we never have and never will be using Palm oil (whether "sustainable" or not) in any of our products. I am afraid that we just don't believe that there is currently such a thing as genuinely sustainable, responsibly sourced Palm oil and until there is, we would much rather spend a few extra pennies on an alternative oil. It may leave our pockets a little emptier but it most definitely leaves our conscience clearer, knowing that we are not contributing to the demise of these beautiful creatures and that is a trade off that we are more than happy to make.