melbourne vegan

Jaclyn McCosker

Explaining The Palm Oil Boycott: The what and why

Explaining The Palm Oil Boycott: The what and why

As a conscious consumer, I boycott palm oil. Something I have done for more than five years.

Palm oil is found in approximately 50% of consumer products, and is often labelled as innocent ‘vegetable oil’. Widely unknown to even exist, many may wonder what the big fuss is over this specific type of oil? This post will give a really general overview of why palm oil is talked about with such disdain.

The problem is that most of the world’s palm oil comes from only two Indonesian islands: Borneo and Sumatra. And these islands double as the remaining habitats for the highly endangered orangutan.

Previously orangutans lived across Indonesia and Malaysia, but in the last 20 years 80% of the population has been wiped out. Today they can only be found in these two islands of Borneo and Sumatra.

Orangutans are great apes, sharing 97% of human DNA. The direct translation of the word ‘orangutan’ is 'person of the forest'. Like us, they have opposable thumbs. Also like us, they are highly intelligent with tight family units. You just need to observe one to see the similarities. It’s almost like looking in a mirror.


I’m sure you’re with me when I say these guys don’t deserve to come to harm, and the world will be worse off once they're gone. Unfortunately, orangutan extinction is predicted within the next 10 years, with more than 6,000 dying every year.

Palm oil plantations replace tropical forests, kill endangered species, uproot local communities, and greatly contribute to the release of climate-warming gases. (All topics I won't even delve into in this short post.)

As consumerism continues to rocket through the roof with our exploding population, palm oil is only increasing in demand.

The orangutans that are displaced starve to death, are killed by plantation workers as pests, or die in the fires. Orangutan orphanages are overwhelmed with the baby apes, often with missing fingers when they were hacked from their mothers dead bodies. Not only our orangutan cousins are affected. Sumatran tigers, pygmy elephants, rhinos and sun bears all have their futures in jeopardy with two thirds of natural habitat now cleared! (Read about the endangered Sumatran tiger here.)

While palm oil may be the largest contributing factor to the extinction of orangutans and these other species, it’s not the sole factor. Logging, hunting and an illegal pet trade contribute to their fast eradication from the planet. And I agree, stopping something like an illegal pet trade may seem an unachievable task for you, sitting behind your computer in a country like Australia.

But whether you choose to purchase palm oil or not is a decision you can make right now, from this moment onwards. Palm oil is the leading cause of orangutan extinction, and the reason they are dying is because we are not vigilant with checking labels when we shop.

The good news is that you absolutely don’t need palm oil, at all! The oil can be found in everything like food, cleaning products and cosmetics, but plenty of responsible companies leave it out. It’s a simple matter of spending a few minutes doing your research. It can be easy to isolate the “bad” companies versus the “good” companies.

A small example of the guilty companies to always avoid are Nestlé, Dove, Coca Cola, Doritos, Lynx and Colgate. Generally a lot of those large multinational corporations.

Australian Palm Oil Investigations frequently compare common supermarket products that do and don’t have palm oil. And now they have a free app you can download to scan your products in the supermarket you may have seen me use in my Instagram story, ‘POI Palm Oil Barcode Scanner’. This helps you learn that while palm oil is hidden in ingredients under a variety of different names, there are still tons of alternative options!

For e.g. Doritos salsa = uncertified palm oil and Mission salsa = palm oil free! The same product from the same aisle, it's just a different label. The choice is really that simple.

For more on how to boycott palm oil:
WWF – Which Everyday Products Contain Palm Oil?
Rainforest Action Network – Palm Oil – What is Palm Oil? – What Can I Do?

My favourite store for zero waste and vegan products is Biome. They are certified by Palm Oil Investigations to be 100% free from untraceable palm oil. Shop Biome here.

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