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Girl Scouts and Palm Oil




When they were just eleven years old, Michigan Girl Scouts Madison Vorva and Rhiannon Tomtishen discovered an alarming fact while completing research for their Girl Scout Bronze Awards: most Girl Scout cookies are packed with palm oil, an ingredient that causes the destruction of irreplaceable rainforests and threatens the survival of humankind’s closest relative, orangutans.

The two sixth graders were shocked. Determined to convince Girl Scouts USA (GSUSA) to rid the cookies of palm oil, Madi and Rhiannon spent several years raising awareness and organizing their sister scouts. After four years, Girl Scouts USA still had not budged. Undeterred, Madi and Rhiannon approached Rainforest Action Network (RAN) in the fall of 2010 for some help.

After confirming that agribusiness giant Cargill supplies most of the palm oil in Girl Scout cookies, RAN launched a solidarity push to generate public pressure on GSUSA in the spring of 2011, beginning with an email petition to GSUSA’s CEO. A renegade “Rainforest Hero” Merit Badge toolkit was launched on RAN’s youth educational website, and Rainforest Hero photo petitions were submitted from Girl Scout troops all over the country.

Our demand was clear: The revered organization should make a commitment to rid its iconic cookies of controversial palm oil and to make an announcement giving the date of palm oil free cookies in 2012, in honor of their 100th anniversary.

Working alongside other allies and standing behind Madi and Rhiannon, the collaboration began to generate coverage in key blogs, eventually breaking out into more conventional media outlets. The campaign received a key boost when our allies at Change.org sent an action alert to 1.38 million members, soaring the numbers of emails generated to the CEO of GSUSA to more than 70,000.

Madi and Rhiannon’s inspiring story began catching on with articles appearing in online versions of AnnArbor.com, TIME and CNN. But it was the front-page coverage in the Wall Street Journal that launched the issue into primetime. This amazing piece was quickly followed by a whirlwind media tour that included live national television appearances on ABC, CBS and Fox News as well as a powerful blog post on Huffington Post by Josie Carothers, granddaughter of the inventor of Girl Scout cookies, titled “Why the Inventor of Girl Scout Cookies Would Be Ashamed Today.”

As the media attention was heating up, top executives with the Girl Scouts finally agreed to meet with Madi and Rhiannon for the first time. Communication between Madi and Rhiannon and Girl Scouts USA leadership is ongoing and GSUSA has made an initial verbal commitment to research the issue of palm oil and explore options to replace it.

While the outcome of Madi and Rhiannon’s Girl Scout campaign remains to be seen, what is clear is that these two tenacious young women have changed the face of the fight against palm oil forever, catapulting the issue into national attention and onto the radar of corporate America.  

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