Joe EisenResearch and Policy Coordinator for Rainforest Foundation UKFriday 9 Nov 2018 2:54 pm
Icelands Christmas advertisement depicting an orangutans rainforest home being destroyed for palm oil has been banned by Clearcast, the body responsible for vetting ads before they are broadcast to the public, for being too political.
The animation, which is based on a Greenpeace campaign to get big brands to drop dirty palm oil from their products, marks Icelands decision this year to phase it out of its products. It is certainly powerful – but too political?
This Christmas, our TV screens will be awash with advertisements for products containing palm oil.
Thousands of cosmetics, mince pies and chocolates on our supermarket shelves will very likely contain the oil which is cheap and easy to produce.
The problem is that in the current regulatory environment, we the consumer know very little about where this came from or how it was sourced.
Palm oil production provides employment for many thousands of workers and livelihoods for many small-scale producers. However, its production can cause serious environmental damage, especially where natural tropical forests are cleared to make way for palm plantations.
This has been one of biggest causes of deforestation in Borneo – the natural habitat of the orangutan. Where such clearance occurs on deep peat soils, there can also be extremely high emissions of climate-changing gases.
Many indigenous forest people and local communities in south-east Asia, and increasingly in Africas Congo Basin, have lost their lands to palm oil companies, and there are many thousands of such conflicts over land in Indonesia alone.
This is especially problematic as governance of the forest and agricultural sectors in many rainforest countries is particularly weak, and environmental and social standards are low and often not enforced.
Communities living in areas targeted for conversion to plantations often have no formal legal rights to the lands they occupy and rely on, even if they have very long-standing customary claims to those lands.
Consumption of palm oil will almost certainly continue to grow in the absence of cheaper alternatives. The Rainforest Foundation UK believes that growth in production to meet this rising demand need not and should not result in further deforestation anywhere in the tropics.
Employing better planting techniques or locating plantations on degraded lands would help, though great care needs to be taken to ensure that this also does not dispossess local farmers, or mask clearance of secondary but still ecologically important forests.
Ultimately, supporting local and indigenous communities – the people who are on the frontline of rainforest protection – to secure rights to their lands will ensure better stewardship of this precious resource.
So when banning an advert that highlights the potential social and environmental impacts of our purchases, perhaps the regulators should do more to ensure that we, as consumers, can make informed choices about the products we buy.
When we read the ingredients on the product label of our Christmas purchase, we have the right to know that it hasnt been linked to the destruction of rainforests.