Cruelty Free Shopping Guide

Sustainable Palm Oil: More to Buying Cruelty Free

Key Points

  • Palm oil, with uniquely good food properties, is over 65% of vegetable oil produced globally.
  • The popularity of palm oil has triggered a rapid increase of palm plantations, often by clearing critical habitat for endangered species like the tiger and orangutan.
  • Palm oil takes much less land than other plant oil crops, making it the most environmentally sound vegetable oil, if sustainably grown. World Wildlife Fund & Rainforest Alliance agree replacing it with a different vegetable oil will worsen deforestation.
  • Food uses 90% of palm oil. It's the critical industry that must shift to sustainable palm oil.
  • Growers and companies say they'll switch to sustainable palm oil if customers ask for it, but customers aren't. Ask for it!

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"Cruelty free" in personal care and cosmetics generally means "No animal testing." For many, though, cruelty free goes beyond this and includes whether animals were harmed in other ways.

An issue of increasing concern is the destruction of critical habitat to grow cosmetics ingredients. Palm oil has become the poster image for this.

Growers and companies say they'll switch to sustainable palm oil if customers ask for it, but they aren't hearing from customers about it.

That's where you and I come in. At the end of this article is the contact information for the major purchasers of palm oil. Take a minute to call or email those who aren't buying sustainable palm oil, and let them know you'll stop buying their products until they switch to sustainable palm oil.

Palm Oil - Increasing by Popular Demand

Palm oil is an edible vegetable oil from the flesh of the oil palm fruit. The American Palm Oil Council reports that 90% of palm oil goes into food.

Palm Oil Fruit
Fruit of Elaeis guineensis (oil palm). Photo credit: By Cayambe, March 2010 - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=13809442.

Palm oil has particularly nice qualities for food preparation: It's stable at high temperatures and has a high smoke point, making it good for frying. It contains a significant amount of vitamin E, a natural preservative that helps extend shelf life. And rare among vegetable oils, it is semi-solid at room temperature, making it a good replacement for trans fats.

Although cosmetics use is dwarfed by food use of palm oil, it's still an important market. You'll find palm oil and its components in bar soaps, where it's a key fat for soap-making; in lipsticks, to improve texture; in lotions, to help skin retain moisture; in shampoos and hand and body washes, to improve lather; and in hair care, for conditioning.

Palm oil has grown rapidly to become the #1 vegetable oil in the world. The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) reports palm oil is almost 40% of all vegetable oil used globally and almost 70% of the oil traded each year, and production is growing exponentially.

The rapid expansion largely results from economic growth in China and India and from consumers' desire to switch from cooking with animal fats to cooking with vegetable fats.

Among the vegetable oils, palm oil has grown fastest because of its good qualities for food preparation and because it is one of the cheapest vegetable oils.

We often equate cheap with "must be bad," but in this case, cheap is the result of an excellent environmental quality: It is a highly productive crop, so it yields more oil on less land. The alternatives to palm oil - sunflower oil, soybean oil, and rapeseed oil - take 4-10 times as much land to produce the same amount of oil (RSPO).

Palm oil sounds great. So what's the problem?

Endangered Species
Critically endangered species, from left: Orangutan, Sumatran Tiger, Sumatran Rhino. Photo credits (left to right): © Lola Pidluskaya, Dreamstime; By Nichollas Harrison, July 2013 - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Indrah_the_Sumatran_Tiger.jpg; By Willem v Strien, April 2008 - Own work, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Sumatran_Rhinoceros_Way_Kambas_2008.jpg.

The Problem: Destruction of Critical Habitat for Endangered Orangutans, Rhinos, Tigers & Elephants

The demand for palm oil has triggered extensive clearing of rainforests for oil palm plantations, especially in Indonesia and Malaysia.

These rainforests are the last refuge of many endangered and critically endangered species. WWF states: "Of all WWF's priority agricultural commodities, palm oil poses the most significant threat to the widest range of endangered megafauna - including tigers, elephants, rhinos and orangutans."

Deforestation for oil palm plantation, Indragiri Hulu, Riau Province, Indonesia. Photo credit: By Aidenvironment, June 2010, CC BY SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Riau_deforestation_2006.jpg.

The Sumatran orangutan, Sumatran rhino, and tiger are now listed as Critically Endangered, which means they face an extremely high risk of extinction in the immediate future. Plantations are now moving into Africa, threatening the big apes, too.

The Solution: Consumer Pressure to Force Changeover to Sustainable Palm Oil

Sustainably harvested palm oil is available. It's certified by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO).

RSPO Certification Label
This logo identifies certified sustainable palm oil.

The RSPO's approach is have all stakeholders in this issue work out solutions together - a roundtable approach. Its members include plantation companies, processors, traders, consumer goods manufacturers, retailers of palm oil products, and environmental and social welfare groups.

You can see this group has many competing interests, so compromise is necessary. A search online reveals internal and external criticism of their slow progress. Still, WWF and Rainforest Alliance, who are RSPO members, and other major environmental groups temper their criticism with support.

Sustainably produced palm oil is currently about 19% of total palm oil production (RSPO, 2017). Yet, much goes unsold for lack of demand. Consumers have not demanded sustainable palm oil, and so companies do not feel compelled to pay a premium for it.

In 2013, nearly half of certified palm oil failed to find a buyer. It had to be sold off as conventional palm oil without the price premium (The Guardian, July 4, 2013).

The palm growers look at this through a strictly business lens. In a November 2014 article, The Guardian quotes Yusof Basiron, CEO of the Malaysian Palm Oil Council: "The Malaysian palm oil industry aspires to supply what the consumers want. Customer is 'king'. We can supply RSPO-certified or zero deforestation palm oil or normal palm oil, based on demand, preference and price being offered."

The solution is straightforward. Consumers (we) must press manufacturers to buy only certified sustainable palm oil, and we must press retailers to stock only brands that use certified sustainable palm oil.

Yusof Basiron is correct . . .Customer is king. That's us. So let's start making some royal demands.

Contact These Companies

WWF publishes a palm oil scorecard for manufacturers and retailers. As one of the founding members of the RSPO, WWF has worked with most of these companies at the roundtable. The scorecard is the best assessment available of company performance.

The following consumer companies either are large buyers of unsustainably grown palm oil or refuse to release information about their palm oil buying. Take a few minutes to call or email them. Let them know sustainable palm oil is important to you and that you will be considering that in your purchasing decisions.

Contact These Consumer Companies with Poor/Hidden Records

Company/Contact Palm Oil Use Company's Brands
Procter & Gamble
Cincinnati, OH
513-983-1100 (general)
Send an email
493,677 tons, 59% unsustainable Always, Aussie, Bold, Bounce, Bounty, Braun, Cascade, Charmin, Cheer, Comet, Crest, Dawn, Downy, Febreze, Gain, Gillette, Head & Shoulders, Herbal Essences, Ivory, Joy, Luvs, Olay, Old Spice, Oral-B, Pampers, Pantene, Pepto Bismol, Prilosec, Puffs, Rejoice, Safeguard, Scope, Secret, Swiffer, Tampax, Tide, Vicks, more.
Kao Corporation
Tokyo, Japan
US office: Cincinnati, OH: 513-629-5210
Canada office: Mississauga, Ontario: 905-670-7890
Send an email
100,000 tons, 76% unsustainable Ban, Biore, Curel, Goldwell, Guhl, Jergens, John Frieda, KMS California, Molton Brown
Vevey, Switzerland
US office: Glendale, CA
Canada office: North York, ON
800-387 4636
Send an email
417,834 tons, 78% unsustainable100 Grand candy bar, Abuelita, Aero candy bar, Alpo dog food, Baby Ruth, Beneful dog food, Boost, Butterfinger, Cailler, California Pizza Kitchen, Carnation, Cini Minis, Coffee-Mate, Cookie Crisp, Nestle Crunch Bar, DiGiorno, Dreyer's Ice Cream, Edy's Ice Cream, Estrelitas, Fancy Feast, Felix, Friskies, Gerber, Gourmet cat food, Haagen Daz, Herta, Hot Pockets, KitKat, La Laitiere, La Lechera, Lean Cuisine, Maggi, Milo, Nescafe, Nespresso, Nesquik, Nestea, Perrier, Poland Spring, Purina, San Pellegrino, Skinny Cow, Stouffers, Tollhouse, Tombstone pizza, more.
Johnson & Johnson
New Brunswick, NJ
Send an email
86,686 tons, 39% unsustainableAveeno, Benadryl, Bengay, Clean & Clear, Cortaid, Desitin, Imodium, Johnson's, Listerine, Lubriderm, Motrin, Mylanta, Neosporin, Neutrogena, Nicorette, Pepcid, Prim'age, Red Cross brand, Rembrandt, ROC, Rogaine, skin ID, Sudafed, Tucks, Tylenol, Zyrtec, more.

Buy from These Companies with Good Records

The following large manufacturers buy most or all certified sustainable palm oil. For those that manufacture cosmetics, only L'Oreal's Urban Decay is also certified free of animal testing. I'm including all the brands, though, because this article may be read by a broader audience than just cruelty free consumers. For those of us who want to buy cruelty free, perhaps the best strategy is to buy food from these manufacturers, since food is the biggest issue for palm oil, but buy cosmetics and personal care products from Leaping Bunny or Choose Cruelty Free brands.
Company Palm Oil Use (100% sustainable) Company's Brands
Netherlands and UK
1,513,265 tonsAxe, Becel/Flora, Ben & Jerry's, Bertolli, Blue Band/Rama, Clear, Closeup, Dove, Hellman's, Knorr, Lifebuoy, Lipton, Lux, Ponds, Simple, Sunlight, Sunsilk/Elidor/Seda/Sedal, TRESemme, Vaseline, Alberto VO5, more.
Purchase, NY
452,743 tons Pepsi, 7Up, Mountain Dew, Naked Juice, Sierra Mist, Aquafina, Gatorade, IZZE, Sobe, Mirinda, Tropicana, Lay's, Ruffles, Doritos, Tostitos, Cheetos, Walker's Crisps, Quaker Oats, more. The Frito-Lay chip brands are the main products using palm oil.
New York, NY
174,328 tons Ajax, Colgate, Murphy Oil Soap, Palmolive, Dermassage, Tom's of Maine, Speedstick deodorants, Softsoap, Irish Spring, Suavitel Fabric Softener, Hills Pet Care, Science Diet, more.
Reckitt Benckiser
Slough, Berkshire, England
125,843 tons Scholl, Dr. Scholl's, Mucinex, Gaviscon, Clearasil, Finish, Lysol, Woolite, Calgon, French's Foods, Airwick, Nurofen, Durex, Strepsils, Dettol, Veet, Vanish, Mycil, Airborne, Cepacol, Glass Plus, K-Y, Sani-Flush, more.
General Mills 67,724 tons Betty Crocker, Bisquick, Gold Medal, Pillsbury, Pillsbury Atta, Big G cereal, Cascadian Farm, Cheerios, Chex, Cinnamon Toast Crunch, Fiber One, Kix, Lucky Charms, Monsters, Total, Trix, Wheaties, Annie's, Green Giant, Helper, La Saltena, Muir Glen, Nature Valley, Old El Paso, Progresso soups, Wanchai Ferry, Yoki, Yoplait, Mountain High yogurt, more.
Kellogg Company
Battle Creek, MI
50,313 tons Corn Flakes, Fruit Loops, Frosted Flakes, Mini Wheats, Kellogg's Raisin Bran, Rice Krispies, Special K, Pop Tarts, Eggo, Fiber Plus fiber bars, Nutri-Grain fiber bars, Morningstar Farms, Gardenburgers, Keebler, Pringles, Carr's, more.
Mondelēz International
previously part of Kraft
289,255 tons (96% sustainable) Cadbury, Chips Ahoy, Club Social, Cote d'Or, Dentyne, Trident, Hall's (cough drops, candy), Honeymaid, Nabisco, Newtons, Nilla, Nutter Butter, Oreo, Philadelphia cream cheese, Premium, Ritz, Triscuit, Wheat Thins, Tang, Toblerone, more.
Ferrero Trading
181,000 tonsNutella, TicTac, Ferrero Rocher, Kinder.
United Biscuits
76,196 tonsBN, Carr's, Delacre, Delichoc, go ahead!, Jacob's, McVitie's, Sultana, Verkade.

Certified Cruelty Free Brands That Use Sustainable Palm Oil

The following cruelty-free brands have committed to buying only certified sustainable palm oil:

  • Antiquity BC
  • Dr Bronner's
  • Ecover
  • Gilchrist & Soames
  • Grandpa Brand Soap
  • One With Nature
  • Route One Pumpkins
  • The Body Shop
  • Urban Decay (parent is L'Oreal, which purchases 100% sustainable palm oil)

There are likely others, but most companies don't mention either way on their web sites. The preceding companies specifically note their palm oil stance on their web sites.

Last updated: October 2017

Photo credits for feature image: Orangutan With Two Babies Photo © Lola Pidluskaya, Dreamstime. Burning Forest Deforestation Photo © Pabloborca, Dreamstime

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