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Orangutan With Two Babies Photo © Lola Pidluskaya, Dreamstime

Burning Forest Deforestation Photo © Pabloborca, Dreamstime

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Sustainable Palm Oil: More to Buying Cruelty Free

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By Jean Knight, White Rabbit Beauty

"Cruelty free" in personal care and cosmetics generally means "No animal testing." For many, though, cruelty free goes beyond this and includes whether animals were harmed in other ways.

An issue of increasing concern is the destruction of critical habitat to grow cosmetics ingredients. Palm oil has become the poster image for this. This article focuses on palm oil because that's what people are asking about in cosmetics, but the issue goes beyond cosmetics. In fact, food is the critical area.

Key Points

Here are the key points, with details in the article:

  • Palm oil, an important vegetable oil with unique properties, is over 65% of vegetable oil produced worldwide.

  • The popularity of palm oil has triggered rapid development of palm plantations, often by clearing critical habitat for endangered species like the tiger and orangutan.

  • 90% of palm oil is used for food, so food is the critical industry that must switch to sustainable palm oil.

  • Palm oil takes 4-10 times less land than other plant oil crops to produce the same amount of oil, making it the most environmentally sound vegetable oil, if sustainably grown. The solution is for companies to buy sustainable palm oil, not to replace palm oil. World Wildlife Fund, Rainforest Alliance, and others agree replacing palm oil with a different vegetable oil will make deforestation much worse. If we start seeing "palm oil free" on labels, we're in even bigger trouble.

  • Growers and companies say they'll switch to sustainable palm oil if customers ask for it, but they aren't hearing from customers about it.

That's where you and I come in. At the end of this article is the contact information for the major purchasers of palm oil. Take a minute to call or email those who aren't buying sustainable palm oil, and let them know you'll stop buying their products until they switch to sustainable palm oil.

Palm Oil - Increasing by Popular Demand

Palm oil is an edible vegetable oil from the flesh of the oil palm fruit. The American Palm Oil Council reports that 90% of palm oil goes into food. Palm oil has particularly nice qualities for food preparation: It's stable at high temperatures and has a high smoke point, making it good for frying. It contains a significant amount of vitamin E, a natural preservative that helps extend shelf life. And rare among vegetable oils, it is semi-solid at room temperature, making it a good replacement for trans fats. When trans fats were found to be a health concern, food brands in many cases replaced the trans fats with palm oil.

Although cosmetics use is dwarfed by food use of palm oil, it's still an important market. You'll find palm oil and its components in bar soaps, where it's a key fat for soap-making; in lipsticks, to improve texture; in lotions, to help skin retain moisture; in shampoos and hand and body washes, to improve lather; and in hair care, for conditioning.

Palm oil has grown rapidly to become the #1 vegetable oil in the world. The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) reports palm oil accounted for 40% of all vegetable oils traded internationally in 2000; 65% by 2006; and production is expected to double the 2006 level by 2020 (WWF, 2006).

The rapid expansion largely results from economic growth in China and India and from consumers' desire to switch from cooking with animal fats to cooking with vegetable fats. Among the vegetable oils, palm oil has grown fastest because of its good qualities for food preparation and because it is one of the cheapest vegetable oils.

We often equate cheap with "must be bad," but in this case, cheap is the result of an excellent environmental quality: It is a highly productive crop, so it yields more oil on less land. The alternatives to palm oil - sunflower oil, soybean oil, and rapeseed oil - take 4-10 times as much land to produce the same amount of oil (RSPO).

Palm oil sounds great. So what's the problem?

The Problem: Destruction of Critical Habitat for Endangered Orangutans, Rhinos, Tigers, and Elephants

The demand for palm oil has triggered extensive clearing of rainforests for oil palm plantations, especially in Indonesia and Malaysia. These rainforests are the last refuge of many endangered and critically endangered species. WWF states: "Of all WWF's priority agricultural commodities, palm oil poses the most significant threat to the widest range of endangered megafauna - including tigers, elephants, rhinos and orangutans."

The Sumatran orangutan, Sumatran rhino, and tiger are now listed as Critically Endangered, which means they face an extremely high risk of extinction in the immediate future. Plantations are now moving into Africa, threatening the big apes, too.

The Solution: Consumer Pressure to Force Changeover to Sustainable Palm Oil

Sustainably harvested palm oil is available. It's certified by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). The RSPO's approach is have all stakeholders in this issue work out solutions together - a roundtable approach. Its members include plantation companies, processors and traders, consumer goods manufacturers and retailers of palm oil products, and environmental and social welfare groups. You can see this group has many competing interests, so compromise is necessary. A search online reveals internal and external criticism of their slow progress. Still, WWF and Rainforest Alliance, who are RSPO members, and other major environmental groups temper their criticism with support.

Sustainably produced palm oil is currently about 18% of total palm oil production (RSPO, 2014). Yet, much goes unsold for lack of demand. Consumers have not demanded sustainable palm oil, and so companies do not feel compelled to pay a premium for it. In 2013, nearly half of certified palm oil failed to find a buyer. It had to be sold off as conventional palm oil without the price premium (The Guardian, July 4, 2013).

The palm growers look at this through a strictly business lens. In a November 2014 article, The Guardian quotes Yusof Basiron, CEO of the Malaysian Palm Oil Council: "The Malaysian palm oil industry aspires to supply what the consumers want. Customer is 'king'. We can supply RSPO-certified or zero deforestation palm oil or normal palm oil, based on demand, preference and price being offered."

The solution is straightforward. Consumers (we) must press manufacturers to buy only certified sustainable palm oil, and we must press retailers to stock only brands that use certified sustainable palm oil. Yusof Basiron is correct . . .Customer is king. That's us. So let's start making some royal demands.

Contact These Companies

WWF publishes a palm oil scorecard for manufacturers and retailers. As one of the founding members of the RSPO, WWF has worked with most of these companies at the roundtable. The scorecard is the best assessment available of company performance.

The following consumer companies either are large buyers of unsustainably grown palm oil or refuse to release information about their palm oil buying. Take a few minutes to call or email them. Let them know you will be using your buying power to purchase only goods with certified sustainable palm oil.

Contact These Consumer Companies with Poor/Hidden Records
Company/Contact Palm Oil Use Company's Brands
Procter & Gamble
Cincinnati, OH
513-983-1100 (general)
Send an email
462,000 tons, 87% unsustainable Aussie, Clairol, Covergirl, Dolce&Gabbana, Ellen Betrix, Bruno Banani Fragrances, Christina Aguilera Perfumes, Escada Fragrances, Lacoste Fragrances, Londa Professional, Fekkai, Gucci, Hugo Boss, Head & Shoulders, Herbal Essences, Ivory, Max Factor, Mexx, Naomi Campbell, Natural Instincts, Nice 'n Easy, Nioxin, Olay, Old Spice, Pantene, Puma, Rejoice, Rochas, SK-11, Safeguard, Sebastian Professional, Secret, Vidal Sassoon, Wella, Bold, Bounce, Dawn, Tide, Cheer, Cascade, Ariel, Comet, Downy, Febreze, Crest, Pepto Bismol, Scope, Vicks, Gillette, Iams, more.
Purchase, NY
800-433-2652 (corporate), 800-352-4477 (Frito-Lay)
Send an email
457,200 tons, 83% unsustainable Pepsi, 7Up, Mountain Dew, Naked Juice, Sierra Mist, Aquafina, Gatorade, IZZE, Sobe, Mirinda, Tropicana, Lay's, Ruffles, Doritos, Tostitos, Cheetos, Walker's Crisps, Quaker Oats, more. The Frito-Lay chip brands are the main products using palm oil.
New York, NY
US toll-free: 800-468-6502
Canada toll-free: 800-268-6757
Other countries: Find phone number
Send an email
109,259 tons, 76% unsustainable Ajax, Colgate, Murphy Oil Soap, Palmolive, Dermassage, Tom's of Maine, Speedstick deodorants, Softsoap, Irish Spring, Suavitel Fabric Softener, Hills Pet Care, Science Diet, more.
Reckitt Benckiser
Slough, Berkshire, England
UK: +44 (0)845 769 7079
US toll-free: 800-228-4722
Canada toll-free: 800-888-0192
Send an email
106,895 tons, 96% unsustainable Scholl, Dr. Scholl's, Mucinex, Gaviscon, Clearasil, Finish, Lysol, Woolite, Calgon, French's Foods, Airwick, Nurofen, Durex, Strepsils, Dettol, Veet, Vanish, Mycil, Airborne, Cepacol, Glass Plus, K-Y, Sani-Flush, more.
Kao Corporation
Tokyo, Japan
US office: Cincinnati, OH: 513-629-5210
Canada office: Mississauga, Ontario: 905-670-7890
Send an email
95,356 tons, 85% unsustainable Ban, Biore, Curel, Guhl, Jergens, John Frieda, Molton Brown, more.
General Mills
Minneapolis, MN
Send an email
56,041 tons, 54% unsustainable Betty Crocker, Bisquick, Gold Medal, Pillsbury, Pillsbury Atta, Big G cereal, Cascadian Farm, Cheerios, Chex, Cinnamon Toast Crunch, Fiber One, Kix, Lucky Charms, Monsters, Total, Trix, Wheaties, Annie's, Green Giant, Helper, La Saltena, Muir Glen, Nature Valley, Old El Paso, Progresso soups, Wanchai Ferry, Yoki, Yoplait, Mountain High yogurt, more.
Kellogg Company
Battle Creek, MI
Send an email
won't disclose Corn Flakes, Fruit Loops, Frosted Flakes, Mini Wheats, Kellogg's Raisin Bran, Rice Krispies, Special K, Pop Tarts, Eggo, Fiber Plus fiber bars, Nutri-Grain fiber bars, Morningstar Farms, Gardenburgers, Keebler, Pringles, Carr's, more.
New York, NY
212-282-7000 (general), 800-445-2866 (Product Information Center)
Send an email
won't disclose Avon, Liz Earle, Anew, Skin So Soft, Footworks, Advance Techniques (hair care)

Buy from These Companies with Good Records
The following large manufacturers buy most or all certified sustainable palm oil. For those that manufacture cosmetics, only L'Oreal's Urban Decay and The Body Shop brands are also certified free of animal testing. I'm including all the brands, though, because this article may be read by a broader audience than just cruelty free consumers. For those of us who want to buy cruelty free, perhaps the best strategy is to buy food from these manufacturers, since food is the biggest issue for palm oil, but buy cosmetics and personal care products from Leaping Bunny or Choose Cruelty Free brands.
Company Palm Oil Use (all sustainable) Company's Brands
Netherlands and UK
1,523,605 tonsAxe, Becel/Flora, Ben & Jerry's, Bertolli, Blue Band/Rama, Clear, Closeup, Dove, Hellman's, Knorr, Lifebuoy, Lipton, Lux, Ponds, Simple, Sunlight, Sunsilk/Elidor/Seda/Sedal, TRESemme, Vaseline, Alberto VO5, more.
410,000 tons100 Grand candy bar, Abuelita, Aero candy bar, Alpo dog food, Baby Ruth, Beneful dog food, Boost, Butterfinger, Cailler, California Pizza Kitchen, Carnation, Cini Minis, Coffee-Mate, Cookie Crisp, Nestle Crunch Bar, DiGiorno, Dreyer's Ice Cream, Edy's Ice Cream, Estrelitas, Fancy Feast, Felix, Friskies, Gerber, Gourmet cat food, Haagen Daz, Herta, Hot Pockets, KitKat, La Laitiere, La Lechera, Lean Cuisine, Maggi, Milo, Nescafe, Nespresso, Nesquik, Nestea, Perrier, Poland Spring, Purina, San Pellegrino, Skinny Cow, Stouffers, Tollhouse, Tombstone pizza, more.
Mondelēz International
previously part of Kraft
285,732 tons Cadbury, Chips Ahoy, Club Social, Cote d'Or, Dentyne, Trident, Hall's (cough drops, candy), Honeymaid, Nabisco, Newtons, Nilla, Nutter Butter, Oreo, Philadelphia cream cheese, Premium, Ritz, Triscuit, Wheat Thins, Tang, Toblerone, more.
Ferrero Trading
150,000 tonsNutella, TicTac, Ferrero Rocher, Kinder.
Johnson & Johnson
77,800 tonsAveeno, Benadryl, Bengay, Clean & Clear, Cortaid, Desitin, Imodium, Johnson's, Listerine, Lubriderm, Motrin, Mylanta, Natusan, Neosporin, Neutrogena, Nicorette, Penaten, Pepcid, Prim'age, Red Cross brand, Rembrandt, ROC, Rogaine, skin ID, Sudafed, Tucks, Tylenol, Zyrtec, more.
61,850 tonsBiotherm, Cacharel, CARITA, Clarisonic, Decleor, Diesel, Essie, Garnier, Giorgio Armani, Guy Laroche, Helena Rubinstein, Kerastase, Kiehl's, L'Oreal, La Roche-Posay, Lancome, Maison Martin Margiela, Matrix, Maybelline, Mizani, Paloma Picasso, Pureology, Ralph Lauren, Redken, Roger&Gallet, Sanoflore, Shu Uemura, SkinCeuticals, Softsheen.Carson, The Body Shop,Urban Decay, Vichy, Viktor&Rolf, Yue Sai, Yves Saint Laurent Beaute.
United Biscuits
54,137 tonsBN, Carr's, Delacre, Delichoc, go ahead!, Jacob's, McVitie's, Sultana, Verkade.

Leaping Bunny/Choose Cruelty Free Brands Using Sustainable Palm Oil

The following Leaping Bunny and Choose Cruelty Free brands have committed to buying only certified sustainable palm oil:

  • Dr Bronner's
  • Ecover
  • Route One Pumpkins
  • The Body Shop (parent is L'Oreal, which purchases 100% sustainable palm oil)
  • Urban Decay (parent is L'Oreal, which purchases 100% sustainable palm oil)

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Notice: This site was developed and is hosted by White Rabbit Beauty, LLC, a retailer, as part of a broader public goal to make cruelty free products more accessible. We strive to make this an independent resource for cruelty free consumers. Here, we take the consumer's point of view, enabling you to find the best cruelty free products at the best prices at as many stores as possible. The site also has a direct advocacy role, providing news and information to help you take action to end animal testing.