14/05/2008 (Cosmetics design-europe.com) - War on Want has warned that UK consumers could be fuelling a campaign to displace indigenous people from their land by consuming Colombian palm oil.
The London-based charity said paramilitaries have murdered or forced indigenous people off their lands in order to satiate the growing demand for the crop from the UK.
According to the National Federation of Oil Palm Producers, the UK is the largest importer of Colombian palm oil and buys 48.5 per cent of the country's exports.
Demand for palm oil displaces communities
According to the report as much as 70 per cent of the population of Narino's western mountain range in south-west Colombia has been forced off its land as paramilitaries capitalise on the demand for palm oil for use as a biofuel and as an ingredient in personal care and food products.
War on Want is calling on the UK government to review their support for the Colombian government which is at best turning a blind eye and some claim is actively involved paramilitary actions, spokesman for the charity Paul Collins told CosmeticsDesign.com.
Although the report does not specifically mention any of the companies involved, Collins said that the charity has no qualms about 'name and shame' tactics should the information become available. Unfortunately, such information has been rather difficult to get hold of, he added.
According to Collins companies should make it their business to know where there products come from and the effect the commercial relationship has on the local community.
He advises companies to make enquiries about whether their palm oil is coming from new farms and plantations, and if so to question who is running them and what has happened to the indigenous people who were living on the land.
This is certainly not the first time this controversial crop has attracted negative press.
Significant criticism has been laid at the door of some of the world's largest personal care companies regarding the environmental effects of the crop.
A Greenpeace report 'Cooking the Climate' released last fall named Unilever and Procter and Gamble as being two of the worst offenders.
It accused the companies of willingly buying palm oil from suppliers who are actively engaged in deforestation and the destruction of Indonesian peatlands.
Greenpeace said the peat lands that are being destroyed in order to plant the crop are one of the most important stores of carbon in the world.
Destroying these peatlands releases up to 1.8bn tonnes of greenhouse gases every year which represents four percent of total annual global emissions, said the charity.
Earlier this month Unilever responded by announcing it will only use sustainable palm oil by the year 2015.
Effectiveness of self regulation
In doing so the consumer goods giant is following in the lead of other personal care companies including L'Oreal-owned The Body Shop who announced back in July its commitment to sustainable palm oil.
When asked about this type of industry-led approach Collins was not enthusiastic. Giving the clothing and textiles industry as an example he said that the voluntary approach was failing and there had been little evidence of companies keeping to their promises on ethical practices.
Instead he said regulation needed to come from a government level.