LONDON (UK) – Research released today reveals that the booming trade in palm oil, used in everyday products such as chocolate, margarine, shampoo and detergents is fuelling the destruction of rainforests in South East Asia, and leading to human rights abuses and devastating pollution.

Photos Available [1]

In Europe, for instance, one in three food products on supermarket shelves are directly contributing to the destruction of the world’s rainforests, the new report by Friends of the Earth shows [2]. Palm oil accounts for 21 per cent of the global edible oil market, and it is the most commonly used vegetable oil after soy.

Large scale palm oil plantations are replacing the forests in Indonesia and Malaysia at an alarming rate, wiping out 80-100% of wildlife in the area, forcing local communities from their land and destroying their livelihoods. In Indonesia, the forests are disappearing at a rate of more than 2 million hectares a year – an area half the size of Belgium. Nearly a quarter of Indonesia’s palm oil output goes to the European Union.

Palm oil is one of the world’s most consumed oils, and 23 per cent of the palm oil produced in Indonesia is sold to Europe. Europe also buys the 87 per cent of Indonesia’s exports of palm kernel meal, used in animal feed, and 61 per cent of Indonesia’s exports of palm kernel oil, used in cosmetics.

Friends of the Earth is calling on the companies involved in palm oil production to take immediate steps to ensure they only use sustainably produced palm oil. They should ensure they are not involved in any forests being converted to create new palm oil plantations or using fire for clearing the land.

Friends of the Earth Director Tony Juniper said: “Consumers will be horrified to know that their weekly shop is destroying the rainforest, but it is all but impossible to avoid buying palm oil. Tigers, orang-utans and countless other species are being driven to extinction while governments stand idly by and allow companies to get away with it. This problem will not be solved until there are clear rules to ensure the products found in our shops are produced in a way that does not harm communities and the environment.”

The demand for profit from this rapidly expanding trade is leading to human rights violations against indigenous communities, who are losing their land and being forced to work on the plantations, often for less than the minimum wage.

Palm oil exports from Indonesia alone have increased by 244 per cent in the past seven years, with toxic waste product from the process polluting rivers and poisoning workers. The report looks at the role of companies in several countries, including the UK and Sweden, which are heavily involved in the trade as investors, retailers and in processing palm oil. In the UK, the environmental group is calling on the Government to force UK companies to address this issue, and introduce legislation to make them accountable for the damage they cause.

“The global trade in palm oil is destroying some of the world’s most precious wildlife, but the UK Government and the companies involved seem to be turning a blind eye. It is time this greasy supply chain was brought under control and the companies were forced to take responsibility for the damage they cause,” said Friends of the Earth Director Tony Juniper.


In London (UK) Friends of the Earth EWNI press office:
Tel: +44-20-7566 1649
Email :

In Indonesia:
Rudy Lumuru of ‘Sawit Watch’: +62- 251-352171
Email :


[1] PHOTOS: To see them call the visual resources officer in London on +44-20-7566 1656


(i) Rainforest destruction
(ii) Young oil palm plantations
(iii) Mature oil palm plantations
(iv) Water pollution
(v) Communities living along

[2] ‘Greasy palms – palm oil, the environment and big business’ is published by Friends of the Earth on Monday 8th March 2004.