Sunday, 17 January 2010

If You Like Orangutans Then Don't Eat Chocolate!

Recently, I was watching a very comical documentary presented by Alex Riley called Britain’s Really Disgusting Foods. One of the topics that Alex investigates is the production of palm oil used for producing chocolate. To produce palm oil many South-East Asian rainforests have been cleared and this could cause the orangutan to be extinct within 10 years.

Mars Chocolate UK Ltd recently announced that the Galaxy chocolate bar will be Rainforest Alliance certified in 2010. However, while the cocoa they use in it will be 100% sustainable, the palm oil won’t be.

Alex decides to meet the spokesperson for The Rainforest Alliance and asks him why Mars are allowed to get the Galaxy certified by them when they are using unsustainable palm oil. Alex is told that in order to get The Rainforest Alliance seal of approval the cocoa needs to be from a rainforest certified farm, regardless of whether the palm oil is sustainable or not. One word now enters my head, 'greenwashing!'

Alex then decides to go to the Mars Chocolate UK Ltd Head Office with a lorry full of 'orangutan friendly' palm oil and a group of people dressed up in orangutan costumes. Alex tries to sell the palm oil to Mars; however they decline the offer. This is hardly surprising, would you a buy a lorry full of palm oil from a load of people dressed up in orangutan costumes? I very much doubt it.

A spokesperson then comes out and hands Alex a statement. The statement explains that Mars have now committed to using sustainable palm oil by 2015. You may be thinking that’s a fairly good outcome, but how many orangutans will actually be left in 2015?

Although the documentary was presented in a comical way, the issues raised were quite serious. It has all led me to think about the topic of greenwashing. Before you ask me what greenwashing is, no it isn’t like stonewashing jeans but with grass instead of stones!

Greenwashing is when companies mislead consumers to believe the environmental impact and sustainability of a product is more positive than it actually is. This is exactly what Mars have done with the Galaxy. Consumers see that it’s Rainforest Alliance certified and think that it’s environmentally friendly and saving the rainforest, what they don’t know is that the palm oil used in it is causing the extinction of the orangutan.

I wouldn’t say that I’m a 'tree hugging' type of person, but I’m all up for helping to protect the environment. I bet many of you could probably say the same? Whether you're a 'tree hugger' or not, the environment and sustainablilty is something we all need to understand in order to keep the world going.

Maybe, if more of us knew about greenwashing and how widespread it is then companies wouldn’t get away with it. But on the other hand, this wouldn’t be fair on companies whch communicate their CSR to the public and are making genuine attempts in being 'green', as we may think they are greenwashing' when in fact they aren’t.

Companies may then be put off from communicating their CSR in fear of being accused of greenwashing. Personally, I wouldn’t want to see this happen as I think companies have the right to let people know they are acting responsibly and as a consumer I would want to know when they are demonstrating CSR.

What do you think about all this? Should we find a way to prevent companies from greenwashing or should we let consumers work out for themselves whether they are undertaking genuine CSR or not?


  1. Hi Raj,

    I work for the Rainforest Alliance, and I just wanted to chime in here. Under the Rainforest Alliance Certified seal on the Galaxy bar, it clearly states COCOA, which means only the cocoa comes from Rainforest Alliance Certified farms. We think it's important that poor cocoa farmers have access to a viable market while we work on palm oil issues. We recognize something must be done about sustainable palm oil - and fast. You can read our statement here that goes in to more detail:

  2. There's palm oil in many, many products- not just a Galaxy bar. So perhaps you should start reading labels and avoid ALL products that contain palm oil. BTW if a fairtrade bar (like KitKat) contains palm oil (KitKat does) then that palm oil is NOT fairly traded either. So if this concerns you, pls avoid ALL product containing palm oil

  3. Very interesting post Raj, I hadn't previously known about this issue with palm oil, I didn't even know there was palm oil in chocolate, or where it came from, or most importantly the harm it is doing. Surely in the 21st Century manurfacturers can make chocolate with a substitute for palm oil. I will be checking food lables more closely from now on.

  4. mtl - My fellow student Raj was simply pointing out something that he had come across that he could relate back to PR. Raj and myself are both studying for a Masters in PR, and 'green washing' is a topic that has inevitably been explored, and what Raj has wrote about is in my opinion, blatant 'green washing'. Keeping a blog on issues related to PR is a course requirement. I am curious to know though why you feel so concerned about this post, and how you seem to know so much about palm oil in chocolate!

  5. Good chocolate simply doesn't need palm oil. It's used as a bulking agent - filler. The simple fact is that the big confectionery companies throw it into their chocolate to 'stretch' the cocoa, which is why UK chocolate has such a low cocoa content. Best to avoid the bottom end of the market and step up to Swiss, Belgian, or even supermarkets' own Fairtrade milk and dark chocolates. But yes, palm oil is in more than chocolate, but it would be a good place to start - maybe we could help free the UK of it's addiction to fat and sugar?

  6. I am trying hatd to avoid all products containing palm oil/fat. I spend a long time in the supermarket checking labels for list of ingredients. However, I never quite know whether when it says vegetable oil/fat whether this is in fact palm oil. I gather that by the end of this year (2014) all UK products containing palm oil must clearly state it on the packaging. Does this mean though that imported products will still be causing confusion re veg/palm oil??? I am enraged to think that no-one seems to be putting a stop to the barbaric treatment of these beautiful creatures. Of course it is all about money making - but at the cost of these poor animals. It is shameful and is about time it was stopped. I very much doubt that my pitiful efforts of avoiding palm oil at all costs is making the slightest difference to the orangs but I intend to continue to avoid it, and am endeavouring to encourage others to follow suit.