Girl Scout cookies are delicious.
Hey, it’s a start. Other things most people can generally agree on? Rampant deforestation is bad, underdogs are endearing (unless you’re President Snow from The Hunger Games), and two young girls standing up for what they believe in is inspiring. Put it all together, and you have the true story of two Girl Scouts – Rhiannon Tomtishen and Madison Vorva – who discovered that the palm oil in the cookies they were selling was linked to massive deforestation and decided to do something about it.
Unfortunately, as is common among those who are concerned about the palm oil industry (and, frankly, we’d like to see that number grow!), their efforts focused entirely on impacts to the rainforest. While that’s undoubtedly important, so is something else:
The HUMAN impact. The human cost of palm oil isn’t as widely discussed – and it needs to be. In some ways it’s easy to unite a variety of people with the cause of saving the planet. Saving people from a variety of unjust situations is often a more complicated matter. Palm oil companies not only destroy the rainforest, many also effectively steal land from native inhabitants, participate in human trafficking, use forced labor, child labor, and unsafe working conditions, and even go so far as to destroy entire villages’ livelihoods, resources, and even sacred cultural sites, such as graveyards.
Kellogg’s has recently stated that they will aim to use deforestation-free palm oil after catching hell for ignoring Rhiannon and Madison for years, even after the girls received support from the Union of Concerned Scientists. Intentions and actions are sometimes quite far apart, but the fact remains that these girls have, over the course of several years, made a ripple in the pond. Is Kellogg’s promising to make a concerted effort to source from sustainable palm oil out of the goodness of its heart? No. But they are, supposedly, doing it.
It is because these issues – slave labor, rights abuses, and oppression at the hands of rampant, unchecked capitalism – are complicated, it’s crucial that they be part of the discussion. Do we need to preserve the rainforest? Yes, of course. Do we need to also preserve the rights and dignity of human beings? Absolutely. Rhiannon and Madison are young, burgeoning activists and we applaud them – while also encouraging them to dig a bit deeper and incorporate the human element into the whole picture of palm oil activism. These girls deserve a huge kudos for raising awareness and we hope they’ll play the long game. Doing so requires stamina – but it will pay off.
Does this immediately tackle the endemic environmental and labor issues associated with palm oil? No. But it’s a step. Such steps are good news. But until companies agree to address the serious violations of human and labor rights that occur around the world on a daily basis, it’s only a half measure.
Something else we all agree on? One person (or two) can make a difference.