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 is 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 deforestation and of burning peat lands in Indonesia and Malaysia and has been blamed for the smoke haze that recently choked Singapore. 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.

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. Also it brings many economic benefits to communities and small farmers in producer countries. The real problem lies with where and how it’s 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 labeled as such. Palm oil and its derivatives can appear under many names, including:


vegetable oil, vegetable fat, palm kernel, Palm Kernel Oil, palm fruit oil, palmate, palmitate, palmolein, glyceryl, stearate, stearic acid, elaeis guineensis, palmitic acid, palm stearine, palmitoyl oxostearamide, palmitoyl tetrapeptide-3, sodium laureth sulfate, sodium lauryl sulfate, sodium kernelate, sodium palm kernelate, sodium lauryl lactylate/sulphate, hyrated palm glycerides, etyl Palmitate, octyl palmitate, palmityl alcohol

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, animals 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 implementing best practices.

The supply of RSPO certified sustainable palm oil is increasing. But not enough of it is being bought. In fact in 2012 only 52% of all available sustainable palm oil was sold. This just isn’t good enough. 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.

Illustration of a jungle with a tiger and orangutan

What can I do to make a difference?

In 2013 WWF published the 3rd Palm Oil Buyers Scorecard which scored and ranked 130 retailers and consumer goods manufacturers from 14 countries on just how sustainable their palm oil usage is. The Scorecard showed that some big companies like Ikea, Rewe, Ecover, Ferrero and Unilever are making great progress towards using sustainable palm oil. Other companies have made commitments but not acted on them. And some companies are doing nothing at all to ensure the palm oil they use doesn’t harm the environment.

You can play a part in encouraging all companies to move faster towards 100% sustainable palm oil.

Company Country Score / 12 Take Action
Ecover Belgium 12 Tweet
Ferrero Italy 12 Tweet
IKEA Sweden 12 Tweet
REWE Group Germany 12 Tweet
Unilever Netherlands 12 Tweet
United Biscuits UK 12 Tweet
Arla Foods Denmark 11 Tweet
ASDA (UK only) UK 11 Tweet
August Storck Germany 11 Tweet
Axfood Sweden 11 Tweet
Birds Eye - Iglo Group USA 11 Tweet
Boots Group UK 11 Tweet
Cémoi France 11 Tweet
Co-operative Group UK UK 11 Tweet
Coles Supermarkets Australia 11 Tweet
Coop Sweden Sweden 11 Tweet
Coop Switzerland Switzerland 11 Tweet
Delhaize Group Belgium 11 Tweet
EDEKA Group Germany 11 Tweet
H J Heinz USA 11 Tweet
HARIBO Germany 11 Tweet
Iglo Group USA 11 Tweet
Johnson & Johnson USA 11 Tweet
Karl Fazer Finland 11 Tweet
Kaufland (Schwarz Group) Germany 11 Tweet
L'Oréal France 11 Tweet
Lantmännen ek för Sweden 11 Tweet
Lidl (Schwarz Group) Germany 11 Tweet
Lindt & Sprüngli Switzerland 11 Tweet
Lotus Bakeries Belgium 11 Tweet
Marks & Spencer UK 11 Tweet
Migros Switzerland 11 Tweet
Morrisons UK 11 Tweet
Nestlé Switzerland 11 Tweet
Oriflame Cosmetics Sweden 11 Tweet
Premier Foods UK 11 Tweet
Reitan/REMA 1000 Denmark 11 Tweet
Remia Netherlands 11 Tweet
Royal Ahold/Albert Heijn Netherlands 11 Tweet
Royal FrieslandCampina Netherlands 11 Tweet
Sainbury's UK 11 Tweet
SOK - S Group Finland 11 Tweet
Tesco UK 11 Tweet
The Body Shop (L'Oréal) UK 11 Tweet
Waitrose UK 11 Tweet
Warburtons Ltd. UK 11 Tweet
Bongrain France 10.5 Tweet
Brioche Pasquier Cerqueux France 10.5 Tweet
ICA Sweden 10.5 Tweet
Snack Brands Australia 10.5 Tweet
Harry’s (Barilla) France 10 Tweet
Henkel Germany 10 Tweet
The Hershey Company USA 10 Tweet
Mills DA Norway 9.5 Tweet
Arnott's Australia 9 Tweet
Aviko Netherlands 9 Tweet
BASF Germany 9 Tweet
Carrefour France 9 Tweet
Casino France 9 Tweet
ConAgra Foods USA 9 Tweet
Farm Frites Netherlands 9 Tweet
General Mills USA 9 Tweet
Goodman Fielder Australia 9 Tweet
Jumbo/Super de Boer Netherlands 9 Tweet
Laboratoire M&L (prev. l'Occitane) France 9 Tweet
Magasins U/Système U France 9 Tweet
Mars USA 9 Tweet
Mondelēz International USA 9 Tweet
R&R Ice Cream UK 9 Tweet
Raisio Oyj Finland 9 Tweet
Scamark (subsidiary of E.Leclerc) France 9 Tweet
Smilde Foods - Royal Smilde Netherlands 9 Tweet
Vandemoortele Belgium 9 Tweet
Groupe Lactalis France France 8.5 Tweet
Reckitt Benckiser UK 8 Tweet
Associated British Foods UK 7 Tweet
Barry Callebaut Switzerland 7 Tweet
CSM Netherlands 7 Tweet
Metcash Trading Australia 7 Tweet
PepsiCo USA 7 Tweet
Procter & Gamble USA 7 Tweet
Sodexo France 7 Tweet
Wal-Mart Stores (Global) USA 7 Tweet
Woolworths Australia 7 Tweet
Aldi (Süd) Germany 6.5 Tweet
Barilla Italy 6.5 Tweet
Colgate-Palmolive USA 6.5 Tweet
Kamani Oil Industries India 6.5 Tweet
Kesko Food Finland 6.5 Tweet
McDonald's Corporation USA 6.5 Tweet
Yves Rocher France 6.5 Tweet
Nutreco International Netherlands 4 Tweet
Ruchi Soya Industries India 4 Tweet
Metro Group Germany 3.5 Tweet
Les Mousquetaires/Intermarché France 3 Tweet
Kellogg Company USA 2.5 Tweet
Dansk Supermarked Denmark 2 Tweet
Godrej Industries India 2 Tweet
Avon USA 1.5 Tweet
Colruyt Belgium 1.5 Tweet
Compass UK 1.5 Tweet
Findus Group/Young's UK 1.5 Tweet
International Flavors & Fragrances USA 1.5 Tweet
Peerless Holdings Australia 1.5 Tweet
Adani Wilmar India 1 Tweet
Danone France 1 Tweet
Emami Biotech India 1 Tweet
Ginsters (Division of Samworth Brothers) UK 1 Tweet
IGOR Italy 1 Tweet
Aldi (Nord) Germany 0 Tweet
Auchan France 0 Tweet
Burger King USA 0 Tweet
Coop Denmark Denmark 0 Tweet
Costco USA 0 Tweet
Doctor's Associates (Subway) USA 0 Tweet
DuPont USA 0 Tweet
Elior France 0 Tweet
SuperGros Denmark 0 Tweet
Target USA 0 Tweet
Valio Oy Finland 0 Tweet

What else can I do?

As a consumer, you have an 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.

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.

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

Find out more about the palm oil issue here:

RSPO logo on a bottle of palm oil