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Palm Oil

Consumers increasingly want to avoid palm oil where possible, but it's a tricky task as it's used in so many products - more than 50% of packaged supermarket products from margarine and oven chips to soaps and detergents.

We have advice on companies and brands to avoid, how to go palm-oil-free with certain products, whether there are sustainable alternatives, and should we as consumers boycott palm oil. 

The mass production of palm oil has relied on the destruction of rainforests, which leads to climate damaging emissions, as well as loss of biodiversity, particularly for orangutans, and human rights issues.

Palm oil and deforestation

Even in 2020 with economies slowed by the Covid pandemic, Indonesia is said to have lost another 100,000 hectares of forest cover from logging and conversion of land for palm.

Fires are often started deliberately to clear land, and then can spread out of control. Indonesians are even volunteering through Greenpeace to fight back the flames, protect habitats and prevent sickness caused by the air pollution.

What about 'sustainable' palm oil?

The RSPO is the world’s largest and most recognisable palm oil standard, with a stated aim to “make sustainable palm oil the norm”. It was set up in 2004 with the backing of the WWF in response to growing evidence of the devastation that palm oil production resulted in.

It has over 5,000 members worldwide, claims to certify 19% of the world’s palm oil and is favoured by brands such as PepsiCo, Cargill and Nestle.

However, the scheme is accused of everything from certifying plantations involved in child labour to enabling corporate greenwash. Our article looking at the criticisms of the RSPO reviews the problems and also sets out our position on this complex topic.

Our palm oil rating

At Ethical Consumer, we have taken the view that avoiding palm oil altogether or choosing products with the very best sustainability certifications are both reasonable responses to a very complex set of issues.

Our product guides and palm oil ratings are designed to help people make this choice, whichever side of the line people personally fall.

Earlier in 2021 we made our palm oil rating harsher for large companies, so they cannot get a best rating if they use refineries known for having ineffective ‘No Deforestation, No Peat, No Exploitation’ (NDPE) measures.

We also now require large companies to publish their suppliers, and an annual list of grievances raised, as well as all palm oil and derivatives they use being RSPO certified, and at least 50% from the more traceable ‘Segregated’ or ‘Identity Preserved’ sources.

Ten things you need to know about palm oil

Palm Oil and Consumers

Should we boycott palm oil? We share our latest advice for consumers

We give an overview of the issues involved with the palm oil industry as well as some of the solutions that have been proposed.

Learn more about palm oil and consumers

Palm Oil - What is it used for?

Palm oil is a common ingredient used in a range of products. It is the most consumed vegetable oil on the planet. But why is this and what is it used for?

Our guide will tell you why producers use palm oil

Brands and Companies that use Palm Oil

A list of brands and companies to avoid on the basis that they have received our 'Worst rating for palm oil policy and practice'.

The companies on this list either failed to provide sufficient information on whether all of the possible palm oil products used in its supply chain were certified by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), plus something extra like full disclosure of volumes, suppliers, or traceability to the mill. Or they made no information on palm oil available at all. They are worth avoiding.

Our list can help you avoid brands that use palm oil.

Palm Oil Free List

A list of some UK products which are palm oil free or only use sustainable palm oil.

Palm oil is said to be found in 50% of supermarket products, from food to cleaners to cosmetics. It is a type of vegetable oil derived from palm oil fruit. This controversial ingredient may be present in some form in nearly every room of your home.

Its production destroys rainforests and biodiversity. The plight of orangutans has been a key feature of palm oil campaigns, due to 80% of their habitat being destroyed in the last 20 years and the serious risk they face of extinction in our lifetime.

Our list can help you shop palm oil free

Palm Oil Labelling

How can you tell if there's palm oil in your products? Our guide to palm oil labelling will help you to spot products that contain palm oil or its derivatives in a range of products. 

It looks at the different names for palm oil, labelling laws and different palm oil accreditation marks.

Our guide to palm oil labels will tell you how to spot products that contain palm oil

Palm Oil Free Chocolate

We rate chocolate brands on their commitment to sourcing palm oil responsibly.

Chocolate rarely contains palm oil, but some of the fillings that brands put in it do. Here's a look at which chocolate brands are 100% palm oil free, and which ones you should aim to avoid.

Find out where to buy palm oil free chocolate

Palm Oil Free Shampoo

How to avoid shampoo brands that use palm oil.

Palm oil and its derivatives are found in a vast number of cosmetics and food products including shampoo. Find out where you should be buying your shampoo from in order to avoid palm oil.

Find out who sells palm oil free shampoo

Palm Oil Free Soap

How to avoid soap brands that use palm oil.

You might not realise, but a lot of soaps contain palm oil. Find out why you should be avoiding it, and which companies to buy from in order to do this.

Find out where you can get palm oil free soap

Palm Oil Free Toothpaste

In this handy guide, we rate and rank 48 toothpaste brands and companies on their palm oil policy and tell you which brands are palm oil free.

Check out our guide to toothpaste and palm oil

Palm oil and cosmetics

We look at why palm oil is such a popular ingredient in toiletries and cosmetics, what it's used for, and what are companies doing about it.

Palm Oil and Cosmetics

Foods Containing Palm Oil

Demand for palm oil has undergone a phenomenal growth.  It’s the most consumed vegetable oil on the planet, with 72% of it used in the food industry.

According to a 2015 report by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, worldwide use is expected to more than double by 2030 and triple by 2050. 

Foods containing palm oil

Iceland and Palm Oil

An explanation of Iceland's full history with palm oil with updates leading into April 2019 from Ethical Consumer.

Supermarket Iceland score a best rating for ‘Palm Oil Policy and Practice’ on our scoring system. We look at why this is and investigate controversies with the continuing presence of palm oil in products stocked by the supermarket.

Learn how Iceland Foods has distanced itself from palm oil

What is the RSPO?

What is sustainable palm oil? Is the RSPO really sustainable? We answer your questions on the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil 

Learn more about the RSPO

RSPO criticisms investigated

Palm oil is one of the world’s most contentious ingredients. The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) says it aims to “make sustainable palm oil the norm”, but the certification scheme faces heavy criticism.

We investigate the main criticisms of the RSPO, and explain its role in Ethical Consumer’s own palm oil rating.

RSPO criticisms investigated

Fairpalm — a fair trade palm oil?

Traidcraft cookies and cleaning products contain fair trade palm oil. Ruth Strange got the lowdown from Traidcraft's Sourcing Director Joe Osman about the challenges and potential of this work.

Fairpalm — a sustainable option?

Consumer Power

Palm oil is one of the categories on which we base our company and product ratings, and from unsustainable deforestation to animal rights to human exploitation, the palm oil industry seems to be a mess.

As consumers, we need to use our power at the checkout to continue to drive change in the palm oil industry. Pushing companies to only buy certified sustainable palm oil is one clear way of doing this.

Buy or Boycott?

We urge people to boycott products from companies that aren't using 100% responsibly sourced palm oil now. Promising to source responsibly in the future is no longer good enough.

You may also choose to avoid products containing any palm oil, whether it be sustainably sourced or not, but there is a growing recognition that even if all the big western manufacturers stopped using palm oil, the problems of unsustainable production would not go away. 

India and China each consume more palm oil than the EU, and production is projected to increase by 50% by 2020. At the same time, Indonesia has just increased subsidies to boost palm oil production for biofuel. 

If countries with more developed consumer campaigns turn away from palm oil altogether, the most damaging forms of unsustainable production may become even more widespread.