In Historic Move, US Blocks Import of Conflict Palm Oil As Shareholders Speak Out

By Robin Averbeck
clear cutting in tropical forest
Drawing the line: Big agribusiness corporations destroy millions of hectares of rainforest every year for Conflict Palm Oil, and their plantations are often rife with labor and human rights abuses.

For the first time in history, the US government blocked the import of Conflict Palm Oil from a major Malaysian supplier found to be linked to forced labor. Weeks later, shareholders at Procter & Gamble voted overwhelmingly for increased transparency and reporting on deforestation in their supply chains. These unprecedented wins are in no small part thanks to the tireless activism of nonprofit organizations like RAN, and passionate supporters like you. 

We have a saying at RAN–we are nothing without our Network. Thank YOU for helping make Conflict Palm Oil history! 

From Petitions to Federal Investigations

In August 2019, RAN and our partners GLJ-ILRF and SumOfUs filed a Tariff Act complaint demanding government oversight into allegations of forced labor, child labor, and abusive working conditions in palm oil supply chains. This petition launched a year-long investigation led by the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) that culminated with the announced ban of palm oil from Malaysian-based supplier FGV Holdings Berhad in September 2020. 

During their investigation, CBP found signs of abuse of vulnerability, deception, restriction of movement, isolation, physical and sexual violence, intimidation and threats, retention of identity documents, withholding of wages, debt bondage, abusive working and living conditions, and excessive overtime,” in addition to forced child labor. Federal statute 19 U.S.C. 1307 bans the import of goods produced by forced labor. 

Shareholders Speak Up for Forests

Multinational corporations like Procter & Gamble (P&G) knowingly profited from FGV’s forced labor practices for years. P&G imports large quantities of palm oil to use in brands such as Head & Shoulders, Pantene, Herbal Essences, and Gillette. 

In a collaborative effort, we joined forces with and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) to ramp up the pressure on P&G by preparing investor briefings, speaking on webinars, publishing targeted ads, participating in non-violent direct actions, and elevating these issues to the press.

And our efforts paid off! In October 2020, a remarkable 67% of P&G shareholders demanded a report assessing if and how P&G could increase the scale, pace, and rigor of its efforts to eliminate deforestation and the degradation of intact forests in its supply chains. This stands as a resounding rebuke of P&G’s unsustainable practices. 

Together, We Can Keep Forests Standing

Last March, we launched our Keep Forests Standing campaign to expose the banks and brands driving tropical rainforest deforestation. After intensive research, we identified the 17 most influential  banks and brands fueling deforestation and human rights abuses, including Procter & Gamble. 

It’s no secret that palm oil production is often associated with the destruction of fragile rainforest ecosystems and human rights abuses–our campaigners have been drawing these connections for years. 

This year, greed-driven corporations like P&G and FGV are finally being held accountable for ignoring claims of child labor, physical and sexual abuse, and forced labor–for destroying vulnerable rainforest ecosystems–for seeking profit above all else. 

Planting Seeds of Hope

While the grim reality of corporate greed can be discouraging, this latest win planted seeds of hope for us at RAN. From signing petitions, joining actions, and sharing media stories, our supporters answered the call to defend people & planet. Thank you, again, for showing up and making history. 

clear cutting in tropical forest