A corporation's commitment to profit can sometimes undercut other responsibilities toward humans and the environment. This is the case with some palm oil producers, whose unsustainable practices have destroyed rainforests, displaced indigenous villages, and violated human rights.
Palm oil is an edible vegetable oil used in approximately half of all packaged items on American supermarket shelves. Southeast Asia remains the biggest source of palm oil, with Indonesia and Malaysia as leading producers. The demand for palm oil has created a burgeoning global palm oil market, driving the creation and expansion of plantations in countries such as Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, and Nigeria. According to Bloomberg.com, global palm oil production has quintupled since 1990.*
Some palm oil producers put profit before social and ethical responsibilities. As corporations create oil palm plantations, huge swaths of primary forests are decimated, including rainforests that help mitigate global CO2 emissions. Habitat for the Sumatran tiger and orangutan in Southeast Asia are being destroyed, threatening the survival of these and other species. Palm oil production has also had significant human costs. The clear-cutting of forests for plantations have displaced indigenous residents. Human rights abuses against migrant farmers are not uncommon, as men, women, and children have been trafficked—coerced against their will—into low paying jobs with no rights due to their immigrant status. Amnesty International, an international human rights organization, claims some of palm oil's top producers engage in child labor, forced labor, gender discrimination, and do not protect their workers from exposure to toxic chemicals.**
In the photo essay, "Palm Oil in Myanmar," Taylor Weidman documents palm oil production in Myanmar, a country in Southeast Asia. Weidman captures the environmental destruction created by the palm oil industry and the devastating human costs to local villages and to the workers and families employed at plantations.
Connections to National Standards
Common Core English Language Arts. SL.9-10.5 and SL.11-12.5. Make use of digital media (e.g., textual, graphical, audio, visual, and interactive elements) in presentations to enhance understandings of findings, reasoning, and evidence and to add interest.
College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Framework for Social Studies. D2.Geo.2.9-12. Use maps, satellite images, photographs, and other representations to explain relationships between the locations of places and regions and their political, cultural, and economic dynamics.
Next Generation Science Standards. HS-LS2-7. Design, evaluate, and refine a solution for reducing the impacts of human activities on the environment and biodiversity.