Thin Mints vs. Orangutan Survival: Girl Scouts Face Moral Dilemma

By Rainforest Action Network
Rhiannon (left) and Madison (right) Campaigning to Save Orangutans in the Seventh Grade

“Hello, girls. We heard how you’re refusing to sell Girl Scout Thin Mint cookies because they contain palm oil, the production of which might destroy habitat for orangutans in Indonesia. That’s sweet. But listen, you little do-gooders: These are decisions best left to adults.”

This quote from Seattle Times columnist Ron Judd gave two determined Michigan Girl Scouts a bitter taste of the opposition they face in standing up for the survival of the orangutan species.

Five years ago, Madison Vorva and Rhiannon Tomtishen, while completing research for their Girl Scout Bronze Awards, discovered a cold hard fact about the much-sought-after commodity they’d been selling each year: Girl Scout cookies — all but one of the 17 different brands, including Thin Mints — are packed with palm oil, an ingredient that causes clearcutting of irreplaceable rainforests and threatens the survival of humankind’s closest relative, orangutans. The two sixth graders were shocked.

Rhiannon and Madison presenting their project to Dr. Jane Goodall as 7th graders at a Roots&Shoots retreat

Inspired by both their Girl Scout training and the work of Dr. Jane Goodall, the two eleven-year-olds approached top brass Barry Horowitz at Girl Scouts USA (GSUSA) to request a switch from palm oil to a truly sustainable alternative. Mr. Hurowitz seemed amenable during a conference call with the girls in 2008 and promised that both he and a representative from one of the cookie manufacturers, Little Brownie Bakers, would be in touch soon about next steps.

Time marched on and no word came from Hurowitz or the cookie bakers. Madison and Rhiannon decided it was time to motivate and inspire their sister Girl Scouts to band together and get palm oil out of Girl Scout cookies for good.

Madi and Rhiannon organized Girl Scout troops across the country to generate pressure on GSUSA and convinced Union of Concerned Scientists, Center for Biological Diversity, Cultural Survival, Orangutan Foundation International, and Rainforest Action Network to send letters of concern on their behalf  to the national Girl Scout headquarters in New York City. Despite these efforts, Girl Scouts USA has continued to ignore repeated requests from these two Scouts.

Now 15 years old, Madi and Rhiannon still have not given up on making the world a better place.

“The palm oil crisis is just that, a crisis,” says Rhiannon Tomtishen.

“After becoming educated with the issue of palm oil and the effects it has on animals, the rainforest, and the native people I didn’t feel like I could consciously stand by while rainforests are destroyed, human rights abuses are occurring, and species of endangered animals are threatened. I chose, and continue to choose, to take action in the hopes of stopping the destruction and damage occurring.”

Madi’s stance is also quite clear:

“Ethically, I am not comfortable with the human rights abuses occurring in the palm oil plantations.”

“I am not comfortable with the fact that beautiful rainforest is disappearing at an alarming rate because of unsustainable and unwise practices, and I am not comfortable with the reality that orangutans may become extinct in my own lifetime if we do not act to save them before it is too late.”

At Rainforest Action Network, we could not agree more. We stand with these Girl Scouts in their battle to cut the ties that bind their cookies to the endangerment of orangutans and the destruction of irreplaceable rainforests. Stay tuned for some exciting Girl Scouts campaign updates by signing up for rapid responder email alerts from RAN’s agribusiness team.