Unseen – the truth runs deeper

So what’s the problem with palm oil?

What do shampoo, ice cream, margarine, lipstick and candles all have in common? They all contain palm oil. Palm what? Palm oil. It’s the most widely consumed vegetable oil on the planet because it’s extremely versatile and cheap to grow. Some sources indicate that it’s in about half of all packaged products sold in the supermarket. So what?

Palm oil grows in the same area as tropical rainforests, and the uncontrolled clearing of land for plantations has led to widespread loss of these irreplaceable forests. Palm oil has been linked to both deforestation and to the burning of peat lands in Indonesia and Malaysia and has been blamed for the smoke haze that frequently chokes the region. Palm oil plantations have been connected to the destruction of the habitat of endangered species like orang-utans, rhinos, elephants and tigers and to indigenous people losing their land and livelihoods. Forest destruction contributes to climate change, as felled and burned vegetation release climate-warming greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Once planted poorly managed plantations can cause soil erosion and river pollution.

So palm oil is a bad thing and I should avoid it, right? Actually, palm oil itself isn’t necessarily bad. It’s the most high yield vegetable oil there is, which means it needs less land to grow enough oil to help meet the world's needs than other oils like soybean, canola or sunflower. It goes into many of the convenience foods and household products that we have come to rely on so much. And it brings many economic benefits to communities and small farmers in producer countries. The real problem lies with where and how palm oil is grown. But it doesn’t have to be this way - the good news is that palm oil production can be environmentally responsible.

Illustration of a palm tree

Which everyday products contain palm oil?

Palm oil appears in many items you use every day. Many products that use palm oil aren't clearly labelled as such. Palm oil and its derivatives can appear under many names, including:



Confusing, right? So what products contain palm oil? Roll your mouse over the products below to find out some examples.

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Pizza Dough

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Instant Noodles

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Ice Cream

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Palm oil is used in lipstick as it holds colour well, doesn’t melt at high temperatures, and has a smooth application and pleasant taste.

Palm oil is added to both frozen and fresh pizza dough to stop it from sticking together and to enhance texture.

Palm oil is up to 20% of the weight of a pack of instant noodles. It's used to pre-cook the noodles so that all you have to do is add hot water.

Palm oil is used as a conditioning agent that helps restore the natural oils of the hair that are stripped away by most shampoos.

Palm oil makes some ice cream smooth and creamy.

Palm oil can be refined to create soaps, washing powder and other cleaning products.

Palm oil is used in margarine because it is solid at room temperature and is free of trans fatty acids.

Palm oil helps create a smooth and shiny appearance in some chocolate.

Semi-solid at room temperature, palm oil is used to give baked goods a creamy taste and texture.

Palm oil can be used to produce biodiesel and biofuel.

Palm oil is used for its ability to remove oil and dirt from hair and skin as well to moisturize.

As it’s naturally solid at room temperature, stable and vegetarian, palm oil is now widely used across the baking industry.

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Packaged Bread

What are the solutions?

Palm oil can be produced in ways that don’t harm forests or people. Growers, traders, buyers, investors and consumers can all contribute to a system in which enough palm oil is produced to meet the world’s needs while the environment, our climate, wildlife and local communities are protected.

WWF works with a body called the RSPO (Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil) that brings together groups at every level of the supply chain to work on transforming how palm oil is produced, traded and sold. Palm oil growers that follow the RSPO standards are bound to strict guidelines that are designed to ensure their palm oil meets high environmental and social standards. But WWF doesn’t want the industry to stop there. We continue to work with the RSPO to improve its standard and with the industry to help ensure companies are going even further and implementing the very best practices.

The supply of RSPO certified sustainable palm oil is increasing. But not enough of it is being bought. In fact in 2013 only 51.7% of all available sustainable palm oil was sold with the RSPO claim. This just isn’t good enough. The traders, manufacturers and retailers of palm oil simply aren’t matching the efforts of growers to make the palm oil industry sustainable. WWF, with your help, wants to push more companies to commit to and follow through on using only certified sustainable oil. We’re working with the industry to help it grow and prosper without sacrificing any more tropical forests and you can help us.

Illustration of a jungle with a tiger and orangutan

What can I do to make a difference?

2015 is shaping up to be a big year in the battle for sustainable palm oil. It is the year when we will start to see whether the industry is delivering what it has promised.

It’s the year that many companies have given as their deadline to fulfil their commitments to use 100% certifiable sustainable palm oil. It’s also the year that mandatory palm oil labelling will come into full effect in Europe so that customers can finally see if palm oil is present in their food products.

In 2015 WWF will also publish the 4th Palm Oil Buyers Scorecard which ranks major retailers and consumer goods manufacturers on just how sustainable their palm oil usage is. Our 2013 Scorecard showed that some of the world’s biggest brands are falling behind on reaching their 2015 targets and others have taken no action at all. More pressure from consumers like you can create incentives for companies to take the next steps necessary to ensure the palm oil they use is not harming nature or people.

You can play a part in encouraging all companies to move quickly towards 100% sustainable palm oil. Let them know that the world is watching and that their performance on palm oil is no longer unseen.

These scores are based on information in the 2013 WWF Palm Oil Buyers Scorecard. Some companies have progressed since then and these tweets reflect what we know about them now.
Company Country Score / 12 Take Action
Arnott's Australia 9 Tweet
Coles Supermarkets Australia 11 Tweet
Goodman Fielder Australia 9 Tweet
Metcash Trading Australia 7 Tweet
Peerless Holdings Australia 1.5 Tweet
Snack Brands Australia 10.5 Tweet
Woolworths Australia 7 Tweet
Colruyt Belgium 1.5 Tweet
Delhaize Group Belgium 11 Tweet
Lotus Bakeries Belgium 11 Tweet
Vandemoortele Belgium 9 Tweet
Arla Foods Denmark 11 Tweet
Coop Denmark Denmark 0 Tweet
Dansk Supermarked Denmark 2 Tweet
Reitan/REMA 1000 Denmark 11 Tweet
Dagrofa Denmark Tweet
Karl Fazer Finland 11 Tweet
Kesko Food Finland 6.5 Tweet
Raisio Oyj Finland 9 Tweet
SOK - S Group Finland 11 Tweet
Valio Oy Finland 0 Tweet
Auchan France 0 Tweet
Bongrain France 10.5 Tweet
Brioche Pasquier Cerqueux France 10.5 Tweet
Carrefour France 9 Tweet
Casino France 9 Tweet
Cémoi France 11 Tweet
Danone France 1 Tweet
Elior France 0 Tweet
Groupe Lactalis France France 8.5 Tweet
Harry’s (Barilla) France 10 Tweet
Laboratoire M&L (prev. l'Occitane) France 9 Tweet
Les Mousquetaires/Intermarché France 3 Tweet
L'Oréal France 11 Tweet
Magasins U/Système U France 9 Tweet
Scamark (subsidiary of E.Leclerc) France 9 Tweet
Sodexo France 7 Tweet
Yves Rocher France 6.5 Tweet
Aldi (Nord) Germany 0 Tweet
Aldi (Süd) Germany 6.5 Tweet
August Storck Germany 11 Tweet
BASF Germany 9 Tweet
EDEKA Group Germany 11 Tweet
HARIBO Germany 11 Tweet
Henkel Germany 10 Tweet
Kaufland (Schwarz Group) Germany 11 Tweet
Lidl (Schwarz Group) Germany 11 Tweet
Metro Group Germany 3.5 Tweet
REWE Group Germany 12 Tweet
Barilla Italy 6.5 Tweet
Ferrero Italy 12 Tweet
Aviko Netherlands 9 Tweet
CSM Netherlands 7 Tweet
Farm Frites Netherlands 9 Tweet
Jumbo Netherlands 9 Tweet
Remia Netherlands 11 Tweet
Royal Ahold/Albert Heijn Netherlands 11 Tweet
Royal FrieslandCampina Netherlands 11 Tweet
Smilde Foods - Royal Smilde Netherlands 9 Tweet
Unilever Netherlands 12 Tweet
Axfood Sweden 11 Tweet
Coop Sweden Sweden 11 Tweet
ICA Sweden 10.5 Tweet
IKEA Sweden 12 Tweet
Lantmännen ek för Sweden 11 Tweet
Oriflame Cosmetics Sweden 11 Tweet
Avon USA 1.5 Tweet
Birds Eye - Iglo Group USA 11 Tweet
Burger King USA 0 Tweet
Colgate-Palmolive USA 6.5 Tweet
ConAgra Foods USA 9 Tweet
Costco USA 0 Tweet
Doctor's Associates (Subway) USA 0 Tweet
DuPont USA 0 Tweet
General Mills USA 9 Tweet
H J Heinz USA 11 Tweet
International Flavors & Fragrances USA 1.5 Tweet
Johnson & Johnson USA 11 Tweet
Kellogg Company USA 2.5 Tweet
Mars USA 9 Tweet
McDonald's Corporation USA 6.5 Tweet
Mondelēz International USA 9 Tweet
PepsiCo USA 7 Tweet
Procter & Gamble USA 7 Tweet
Target USA 0 Tweet
The Hershey Company USA 10 Tweet
Wal-Mart Stores (Global) USA 7 Tweet
Hillshire Brands (prev. Sara Lee) USA 4.5 Tweet

What else can I do?

As a consumer, you have another very important role to play. Your purchasing power encourages companies to do the right thing. Only shop from companies that have committed to and are using sustainable palm oil.

Look for the trademark on the right and purchase products that the RSPO certifies as sustainable.

One of the biggest impacts you can have on brands is to tell them to do the right thing. Writing to a retailer or manufacturer can help change the way they do business.

Ask retailers to source sustainable palm oil for everything they sell, not just their own brands.

And for those companies that are already close to using only 100% certified sustainable palm oil, you can ask them to do more. Encouraging them to take further action on issues like ending the use of peatlands in plantations or eliminating all dangerous chemicals will help the best management practices become the norm industry wide. WWF is a member of the Palm Oil Innovation Group made up of growers who are doing just that and brands that want to buy their palm oil – you can encourage your favourite brands to do the same.

Find out more about the palm oil issue here:

RSPO logo on a bottle of palm oil