Girl Scouts USA Announces Palm Oil Plan for Thin Mints: Greenwash or Game-Changer?

By Rainforest Action Network
Daisy Troop #42, Seacliff, NY. Photo: Diana Lenkler
Daisy Troop #42, Seacliff, NY. Photo: Diana Lenkler

After four years of savvy campaigning by Girl Scout activists Madison Vorva and Rhiannon Tomtishen, Girl Scouts USA (GSUSA) has finally acknowledged its role in rainforest destruction by releasing a commitment regarding its use of palm oil in its iconic cookies.

Unfortunately, the statement on palm oil just released is a small step in the right direction at a time when we need leaps forward to prevent the imminent extinction of orangutans and the wholesale destruction of some of the world’s most biologically diverse and carbon rich forests.

The bottom line remains: Girl Scouts USA cannot guarantee that the box of Thin Mints you buy doesn’t contain palm oil from rainforest destruction.

Rainforest Action Network, the Union of Concerned Scientists, and Madi and Rhiannon remain concerned and have issued a joint press statement explaining why the announcement by GSUSA, while a good start, is insufficient to sever the unacceptable connection between beloved Girl Scout cookies and tropical deforestation.

Rainforest Action Network asks Girl Scouts USA to instruct their suppliers, especially agribusiness giant Cargill, to adopt basic safeguards around greenhouse gas emissions, human rights and biodiversity loss, and not outsource their values by relying on the inadequate standards of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil.

Troop #9045 in Central Texas. Photo: Troop Leader Jennifer McNichols
Troop #9045 in Central Texas. Photo: Troop Leader Jennifer McNichols

We believe Girl Scouts USA must do more than simply “work with its bakers.” In its statement, GSUSA acknowledges that while the quantity of palm oil they use is relatively small, “their voice is big.” We believe the organization has a responsibility to use that voice to help convince Cargill and other suppliers to offer guarantees to American consumers that abuses such as slave labor will no longer end up in Girl Scout cookies, or any other product. Cargill is buying its oil from the likes of Wilmar, KLK and IOI, companies connected to some of the very worst examples of corporate environmental destruction and human rights abuses. And this means Girl Scout cookies are implicated too.

Girl Scouts USA’s palm oil announcement states:

Beginning with the 2012-13 cookie season, each cookie box will include a GreenPalm logo as a symbol of Girl Scouts’ commitment to address concerns about the deforestation of sensitive lands currently caused by the production of palm oil.

Green Palm Certificates are sold to companies by the plantation that grew the palm oil. The company then goes and buys palm oil from anyone at the cheapest price. For this reason, Green Palm Certificates are a step in the right direction because they reward growers for following basic safeguards, but they do not ensure that the palm oil used in products is not linked to controversy or is driving up demand for palm oil connected to rainforest destruction and human rights violations.

As great as it is that Girl Scouts USA will be addressing the issue of palm oil in the coming cookie season, we strongly urge GSUSA to refrain from simply using its purchase of Green Palm Certificates to greenwash its image, and instead to consider implementing a plan of action to ensure its cookies are truly free of ingredients sourced from rainforest destruction. It would be very misleading for young girls across the country selling Girl Scout cookies to make claims of “sustainable palm oil” in Thin Mints when in actuality the cookies are continuing to drive deforestation and orangutan extinction.