Palm oil and Weleda – our view, our actions

The manufacture of palm oil has often relied on the destructive clearing of native rainforest in the regions where it grows best, but palm oil is also a very useful element in natural and organic cosmetics. It acts as a natural emulsifier and helps to create skin-friendly texture in creams and lotions. Weleda’s been very aware of the difficulty this presents us, as product manufacturers who want to be good to the earth, whilst creating natural products that work.

We were among the first companies to switch suppliers so that the palm oil we use is certified organic and comes entirely from cultivation which doesn’t destroy native wilderness, and which is produced by people working under fair conditions. We insist on guaranteed traceability so that we can tell where our palm oil originated and check these conditions. We don’t pretend this is easy. Lack of transparency within the market for processed raw materials continues to make it difficult for us to achieve our aims. With palm oil derivatives, especially, there is often no way of telling whether the source matches up to our stringent requirements all the way along the supply chain.

We have been trying to find a solution to this problem for years. Our strict internal guidelines on the sourcing of processed raw materials test traceability and are aimed at improving it as time passes, by exerting pressure on suppliers to give more information and for that information to be fully testable. At minimum, we require individual certification of all raw materials used.

Meanwhile, we’ve looked hard at replacing palm oil, palm kernel oil and ingredients based on these with sustainable alternatives. At the moment, moving to other ingredients could contribute to further deforestation. The yield of an oil palm is substantially greater than soybean, sunflower and rapeseed – so buying more of these leads to more ground cleared. That makes it even more important to exert an influence on palm oil cultivation.

For maximum impact on the producers of palm oil, there needs to be a strong market demand for the sustainably grown crop. Other companies may not share our ethical concerns, and for that reason worldwide demand remains very low. In 2013 Weleda became a member of the Forum for Sustainable Palmoil (FONAP), which gives us a stronger voice and allows us to influence improved conditions for nature and the human being. But only when enough companies share our aims to build strong demand can the long-lasting change we want to see come about. Then, and only then, will we as a world society have protected the rainforests, the people who live near and work in the plantations, and the people who use our products and trust in our light footprint on the earth.