We’ve spoken to you before about potential toxins in lipstick and the health risks that they pose. We gave you the scoop on ‘cochineal’, that daily dose of insect for which you didn’t really ask. But it’s time that we talk about the elephant in the room. The Sumatran elephant, to be exact. But what do Sumatran elephants have to do with the lipstick in your makeup bag, you ask? Quite a bit.
Palm-oil is the world’s leading vegetable oil. It has infiltrated just about every market in some shape or form and is reported to be in at least half of the packaged foods at your local grocery store. (14) It gives chocolate its glossy sheen, all without the threat of melting. It thickens nail polish while allowing it to maintain its fluidity. Ramen is cooked in it before packaging. It is also gives your shampoo the suds to wash away the day.
If palm-oil is starting to sound too good to be true, that might be because it is just that. To meet the global demand for this versatile oil, over 14 million hectares of land have already been deforested for palm-oil crops, and that number creeps forward every day. (3) For a little perspective, that amount of land is about the size of Bangladesh – the entire country. With this level of production comes a myriad of complications and in an effort to spread awareness for this problem, here are three things you should know right now:
Palm-oil is a tropical crop, growing optimally ten degrees either south or north of the equator. (3) These niche growth conditions make Indonesia and Malaysia ideal candidates for plantations. In fact, Indonesia alone has amassed 6 million hectares worth of deforested land for crops. The equator isn’t unique only for what it grows, however, but really what lives amongst its growth. Indonesia is home to nearly 15% of all wildlife and plants on the planet. (16) The biodiversity we see in these areas may be the richest we will ever see in our lifetimes.
The Bornean orangutan’s population has plummeted 50% in just three generations and will continue to decline at this rate as a result of palm-oil plantations. (17)Deforestation and forest fires force them out of their natural habitat and into the outskirts of forested area, making them incredibly vulnerable to poachers or those working in the illegal pet trade. Orangutans are essential to the forest and research shows that their presence encourages over at least fifty species of fruit trees, as well as, fifteen species of plants to grow. (13) Moreover, they are highly explorative and have excellent daily coverage of upper forest, opening the canopy and letting sun shine below, encouraging plant life. (13) Another animal that has conversationists worried is the critically endangered Sumatran tiger, who is similarly pushed out of their home by habitat loss and fragmentation of forested areas. (18) This vulnerability, coupled with poaching and illegal trade, means that tiger populations are hovering at less than 400 in the wild. (19) It is incredibly possible that we may witness this beautiful animal’s extinction in our lifetime. Similar gravity should be applied to the plight of Malaysian sun bears and Sumatran elephants and rhinos – three animals, amongst many, that experience rapid population loss as a result of crop building and plantation preparation Though Indonesia and Malaysia deserve attention for the extremity of their conservation issues, it is also important that we recognize animals in other parts of the world whom are suffering as a result of the “wonder oil’s” expansion.
Right now, Chinese companies are causing a boom that will deeply affect the wildlife of Cameroon and other african countries chimpanzees in nigeria cameroon are critically endangered and already struggle to exist due the bush meat trade illegal and logging. (20) Mandrills, known for the colorful pelage and nasal ridges of males, are also feeling the pressure of palm-oil demand, as 80% of their remaining population in Cameroon has been stripped away. (20)
HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS
You may also be surprised to know that these dense, rich forests are not only home to animals and diverse plant life but people, too. In fact, 45 million indigenous peoples live in Indonesia’s forests today. As a result of the palm-oil boom, thousands of land and human rights conflicts have emerged. (6) For the impoverished, plantations provide the prospect of work, income, and opportunity for a different life. In some of the worst scenarios, potential workers, sometimes teenagers or even children, are whisked away from their home cities to an unfamiliar and unforgiving industry. The promises that enticed them to uproot themselves are recanted and they are forced to work in terrible conditions for meager wages. Food and water availability can be scarce and basic freedoms are tightly monitored and controlled. (21) For indigenous peoples who want nothing to do with the industry, companies anxious to procure land for expansion pose a great threat. For the Dayak people, a group native to Borneo, this interest in their land means exhaustive protests, sometimes ending in violence, and the weightiness of an uncertain future of their younger generation. (22)
Though palm-oil is lauded for being a high-yield crop, as it gives nearly four tonnes per hectare of land, the means by which these plantations are created and maintained are incredibly problematic. To start, companies often use slash and burn farming to quickly and effectively clear existing land for planting. (4) Rainforest naturally stores a large amount of greenhouse gas, however, and when it is burned, a considerable amount of carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere. It is important to remember that Indonesia and Malaysia’s land is not uniform. The hot,wet climate lends itself to the growth of peatland swamps littered amongst traditional rainforest. Peatland marsh is primarily decayed organic matter, which becomes richer and richer in carbon over time. Indonesia’s peatlands can store up to 35 billion tons of carbon all on their own. (16) When this kind of land is cleared, the ramifications are devastating. In 2013, smoke from fires in Indonesia were so pervasive that they are said to have caused the worst smog in Singapore’s history, a country that is nearly 2,000 miles away.Scientists have given us the task of keeping the global temperature from rising two degrees. Those two degrees are theorized to be a catalyst of widespread extinction of nearly half of all species. (5) With areas of land as big as soccer fields being deforested every couple of minutes, this is certainly a problem that is urgent and can affect us within our lifetimes. (1)
WHAT IS AXIOLOGY DOING TO HELP?
First and foremost, Axiology takes a stand against palm-oil, formulating beautiful, high- performing lipsticks from conflict-free ingredients of which we can be proud. We hope that our commitment to palm-oil free cosmetics can set an industry standard, proving that beauty staples can certainly be created without deforestation, cruelty to animals, or devastating environmental effects. Aside from cruelty-free sourcing and public awareness, we also aim to help orangutans by donating 6% of our 2015 profits to the Orangutan Foundation International founded by the world’s first orangutan researcher and legendary conservationist, Dr.Birute Mary Galdikas in 1986. OFI is instrumental in rescuing, rehabilitating, and eventually releasing orangutans affected by the palm-oil industry. Their research, community outreach, and technological efforts (like GIS mapping) give orangutans the edge in combatting the many trials they’ll face until the industry is efficiently regulated. Our love and care for Indonesia doesn’t stop there either. While visiting Bali, we discovered a women-run boutique that centered around recycled paper. Participating in this program means that our beautiful boxes serve a beautiful purpose, too: reducing paper waste all over the island of Bali.
WHERE DO YOU COME IN?
First, let’s use CoverGirl cosmetics as a case study. The global beauty brand is owned by Procter and Gamble, a corporation who used over 200,000 tonnes of conflict palm- oil last year. If you pick any shade you’ll find palm-oil disguised as a myriad of derivatives, among them: Isopropyl Isostearate, Ethylhexyl Hydroxystearate, Cetyl Alcohol, Retinyl Palmitate, and Ascorbyl Palmitate.To begin your own personal fight against conflict palm-oil, you must exercise the amazing power you have as a consumer. Choose sustainable brands, like Axiology, with no connections to deforestation, peatland destruction, or animal endangerment. Furthermore, when choosing a palm-oil free brand, be sure to tell competitors, like CoverGirl, why you didn’t choose them.To boost your own personal impact, become involved with foundations like OFI and organizations like the Rainforest Action Network. Lending your support to conservation and activist groups amplifies your voice with the sound of thousands of supporters rallying behind you.Finally, tell a friend. There are great online magazines and networks such as Selva Beat that can help you learn more about palm oil. Share this story with someone and be a catalyst for positive change. In the words of the great people of Indonesia: Air tenant menghanyutkan. Or, “slow but steady work can achieve much.”
SOURCES & MATERIALS READ IN PREPARATION
(13) Conference Slideshow
(16) Video: Protect Paradise: An Animation about Palm-Oil
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