There’s nothing new about fast food corporations unbridling environmental chaos to maximize their profits. But the recent explosion of palm oil usage is a new threat. Burger King is at the front of the pack of corporations abusing human rights and the environment to satisfy its ever-growing appetite for the oil.
485% INCREASE IN THE LAST DECADE
Burger King has always been a corporation defined by its competition. But now it is in danger of becoming the leader in a competition nobody should want to win: fueling the development of avid oil palm plantations. Burger King is one of a number of food and drink corporations that rely on palm oil for everything from fry oil to puddings. The recent increase in its use has been exponential: 485 percent in the last decade alone.
A brief review of the human and environmental impacts of palm oil production makes it no surprise that Burger King—like other corporations—has gone to some lengths to avoid disclosing the ways in which it sources its ingredients. Burger King certainly isn’t concealing anything of which it can be proud, and indeed has more to hide than many of its competitors.
Take the human consequences of palm oil production, experienced most acutely in countries such as Malaysia and Indonesia where palm oil production is highest. An Amnesty International report has found children as young as eight working in the palm oil industry, and uncovered shocking stories of forced labor. Other communities report land-grabbing and grossly unfair wages. Farmers accountable for producing palm oil have reporting “bullying” practices from the corporations that buy the oil they produce.
IMPACTS ON COMMUNITIES
The impacts on children and communities are only the tip of a very large iceberg when it comes to the effects of the current approach to palm oil production.
In 2010, palm oil accounted for 10% of the world’s permanent cropland, and the industry is rapidly expanding. This pressure to increase production regularly creates an incentive for rapid deforestation on stunning scale, leading to damage of the rainforests so essential in the fight to slow dangerous climate change.
Alongside the human and climate implications, current palm oil production also has conservationists seriously concerned. Oil palm plantations terminate thousands of miles of rainforests, and by threatening the habitats they rely on to thrive, puts animals on the endangered species list every year. The World Wildlife Fund clarifies that of all the agricultural supplies it campaigns upon, “palm oil poses the most significant threat to the widest range of endangered megafauna”—big animals like tigers, elephants, rhinos and orangutans.
But that’s not where the conservation threat ends. Current farming practices reduce the areas over which animals can breed, weakening the genetic assortment of animal populations. As a final insult, wild animals near plantations also die when they consume poison intended to target the rats that might intimidate the palm oil crop.
HUMAN RIGHTS ABUSES
Palm oil consumers in Europe and North America might seem far removed from the problems palm oil creates in countries where it is produced. But they won’t remain unmoved by the simple truth that human rights abuses anywhere are an attack on human rights everywhere. Also impossible to ignore will be the very real significances of climate change that current palm oil production helps to accelerate:
- Rising sea levels;
- Extreme weather;
- Disruption to domestic food supplies;
- Farmers struggle to adjust to volatile temperature shifts.
Perhaps it’s no surprise that members of leading environmental and corporate accountability groups have challenged current palm oil ingesting practices. These groups include:
- Rainforest Action Network;
- Mighty Earth;
- Union of Concerned Scientists;
These activists know what big corporations often choose to ignore: it simply isn’t that hard to evade the worst human and environmental consequences of palm oil production. It might put a small dent in their profits, but sustainable sourcing practices around palm oil are well understood—and corporations the size of Burger King have the market power to force them to become the industry standard.
COMMITING TO RESPONSIBILITY
Recently, SumOfUs members have dared some of the world’s largest food and drink companies to commit to responsible palm oil sourcing. Our members have contacted major corporations like Starbucks, PepsiCo and McDonald’s, sharing brand-jamming videos that uncover the connections between the everyday household products made by these major multinational companies and the devastation trails their palm oil habit leaves behind.
TURNING TO BURGER KING
Now we’re turning our attention to Burger King. By stepping up to the plate on palm oil sourcing, Burger King has a real prospect to lead. If it chooses to do so, it will not only change the lives of the children and families currently suffering abuse in the name of palm oil today, but also defend wildlife and safeguard vital natural resources for generations to come.
Sign the petition urging Burger King to end palm oil deforestation in its supply chain.
- Stop Burger King from Destroying Rainforests – ForceChange
- Palm Oil | Union of Concerned Scientists
- Major Companies Using Palm Oil Commit to Addressing Worst …