Palm oil: The bad, the ugly, and … the good

Palm oil gets a lot of bad press.

The oil palm tree, Elaeis guineensis, is native to West Africa. It yields dense bunches with more than a thousand individual fruit, each about the size of a small plum. Palm oil comes from the flesh of this fruit.

Palm oil is used in about half of supermarket products. In the ingredients list, it is often referred to just as “vegetable oil”. It is in many foods, and in cleaning products, cosmetics and biodiesel.

Demand for palm oil is growing rapidly. Since the 1990s, the land area used for its production has increased by around 43%. The huge plantations of Malaysia and Indonesia account for 85% of the world’s output.

Greenpeace says, “The cost to the environment and the global climate is devastating – to feed this demand, tropical rainforests and peatlands in South East Asia are being torn up to provide land for oil palm plantations.”

Clean & Fair

Traidcraft is once again sticking its head above the parapet with a pioneering new product, FairPalm, and a new product range, Clean & Fair.

Two years ago they started a project in Ghana, an area where the oil palm is part of the native flora. They are working with smallholder farmers, using farming and processing methods which protect the environment. Their mission is to demonstrate that palm oil production can be ethical and sustainable.

Clean & Fair is the first household cleaning range in the world to carry the Faitrade Mark. It contains Fairtrade coconut oil from India and fairly traded palm oil.

The range currently has multi-surface cleaner, laundry liquid, washing-up liquid and liquid hand soap. Soap bars will be available soon.

This work is so pioneering that a set of Fairtrade standards for palm oil does not yet exist, hence “fairly traded palm oil”. Once the Fairtrade standards for palm oil have been developed, Traidcraft’s palm oil producers will apply for accreditation.