The Problem With Palm Oil in Soap, Body Product & Candle Making

What Is Palm Oil?

Palm oil is an edible plant oil extracted from palm fruit, and is widely used to make food, soap, personal care products and candles. Crude Palm Oil is extracted from flesh and palm kernel oil is derived from the kernel. 

Many palm oil products aren't labelled clearly. The following names are often used instead of palm oil and its derivatives: 

Vegetable Oil, Vegetable Fat, Palm Kernel, Palm Kernel Oil, Palm Fruit Oil, Palmate, Palmitate, Palmolein, Glyceryl, Stearate, Stearic Acid, Elaeis Guineensis, Palmitic Acid, Palm Stearine, Palmitoyl Oxostearamide, Palmitoyl Tetrapeptide-3, Sodium Laureth Sulfate, Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, Sodium Kernelate, Sodium Palm Kernelate, Sodium Lauryl Lactylate/Sulphate, Hyrated Palm Glycerides, Etyl Palmitate, Octyl Palmitate, Palmityl Alcohol.


The Crisis

There is an increased demand for palm oil, which can be grown only in a wet tropical environments like rainforests. Eighty percent of the world's palm oil production is in Indonesia and Malaysia, where irreplaceable rainforests that are home to a myriad of wildlife including Sumatran Tiger, Sumatran Rhinoceros, Borneo Orangutans, Asian Elephant and the Clouded Leopard are being destroyed. Their habitats are rapidly disappearing, due to the high level of demand for palm oil. Currently an area of forest equal to 300 soccer fields is being destroyed in Indonesia every hour as a result of demand for palm oil. Orangutans are within 20 years of extinction in the wild, as they are killed daily in palm oil plantations. Fires burning across Borneo and Sumatra are also fuelling global warming.



Sustainable Palm Oil

The Roundtable of Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) was formed by WWF in 2002, and is a not for profit organisation aimed at promoting the growth and use of sustainable palm oil products. Its members are made up of palm oil producers, manufacturers, retailers, banks, investors and NGOs. Periodic audits of plantations and mills are conducted by independent certifiers. 

While those who purchase ‘sustainable palm oil’ certainly have the best intentions, there are still no guarantees. Although the RSPCO has established a set of principles, there is still a lack of traceability. The RSPO is dominated 90% by palm oil industry bodies and corporations to ensure continued expansion of the palm oil industry. 

Palm Oil Action Australia points out that the system of granting certificate. for sustainable palm oil is difficult to monitor and audit on a practical level.  

Greenpeace is critical of the RSPO certification system and has published reports targeting Unilever. Greenpeace also launched a campaign against Nestle for sourcing palm oil from Sinar Mas, which has been accused of clearing primary rainforest to establish plantations. Sinar Mas has been a member of The RSPO since 2005. Greenpeace states the following" But the RSPO is about as much use as a chocolate teapot. It took 14 years for the RSPO to ban its members from destroying forests – which it finally did in November 2018. It still hasn’t enforced this new rule – and RSPO members are still destroying forests and getting away with it."

Friends of the Earth have also been vocal critics of the RSPO for having low standards, and also not sanctioning members. In particular, Friends of The Earth have highlighted then fact that certification is granted on a plantation-by-plantation basis, and a company can obtain certification based on only one sustainable plantation. 

There is also the need for harsher penalties for offending companies. The RSPO has stated membership will be terminated evidence of non-compliance is found through auditing. However, not one company has ever had their membership revoked. 

This article about the issues associated with sustainable palm oil first appeared in The Edge Financial Daily, on November 14, 2017.‘RSPO is one man’s wish list’ - Sangeetha Amarthalingam

Moving Forward

Your soap and candle customers might raise these issues with you if you use palm wax for candle making or palm oil for soap making. Perhaps you've never considered the issue deeply, or maybe you have, but this problem feels too big or too far away.

Millions of locals in Borneo, Sumatra and Papua New Guinea rely on the palm oil industry for their livelihood. Some believe that boycotting palm oil is not the solution for this reason.

However, there is still clear evidence that the RSPO doesn't go far enough, global warming is being fuelled by deforestation fires, and Orangutans are close to extinction. Blaze & Foam has therefore committed not to sell products which contain palm oil. Prior to purchasing products to stock in our store, we always check with the manufacturer if the product contains palm oil or not.


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