An event organised by GUE/NGL and hosted by MEPs Kateřina Konečná and Stefan Eck urged bold action from the European Union to minimise the environmental and social impacts of palm oil production towards a more sustainable path. The hearing that took place today at the European Parliament brought together experts, NGOs, policy-makers and officials to debate the “Threats of palm oil production”.

GUE/NGL MEP Kateřina Konečná chaired the first session on the environmental impacts warning about the consequences of the destruction of precious tropical forests:

“Palm oil production is among one of the biggest problems we face today. The lowering of food production costs came at the expense of our health and the environment.  As we heard first-hand from the speakers today, Indonesia is paying a high price for our bad habits. Ecosystems that have been preserved for generations are disappearing before our eyes. This is exacerbating climate change and risking our clean air. This is a race to the bottom and the consequences might be fatal for us and our planet.”

Speakers in the first session included Stanislav Lhota and Jakub Kvapil of Lestari, a Czech environmental and conservation organisation running projects in Indonesia and other places affected by palm oil production; Anne van Schaik of Friends of the Earth Europe and Rudi Putra of HAkA, an Aceh based NGO working to defend the unique ecosystem of Leuser from palm oil destruction. The speakers were clear that they are not against palm oil per se but share a common cause against the unsustainable production methods of an industry resistant to change. They highlighted the need for better standards and more government regulation.

“We must bring this issue to debate and place checks on the industry to act responsibly,” Konečná continued. “A chocolate bar might look innocent but it may hide a reality of child labour and slavery. We must think twice before we buy products with palm oil.”

GUE/NGL MEP Stefan Eck chaired the second session on the social impact of palm oil production. Presenting were Sonja Vartiala of Finnwatch, an organisation devoted to corporate responsibility, Marcus Colchester of Forest Peoples Programme focusing on indigenous forest people’s rights and Tania Murray Li, an expert-researcher at University of Toronto.

Eck highlighted the interconnections between palm oil production and protracted conflicts and inequality in producer countries:

“The transformation of agricultural land to palm oil plantations is behind land conflicts, food price increases and food insecurity. Sustainable palm oil requires more than just addressing environmental concerns as social and environmental impacts are often interrelated.”

“The production of palm oil can result in land grabs, loss of livelihoods and social conflict especially for indigenous peoples. The resulting conflicts have had significant impacts on the welfare of many people,” the German MEP continued. 

Eck echoed concerns from the speakers about the need for a change in direction on how the issue is currently being tackled:

“If palm oil keeps its bad reputation, a growing number of consumers could stop using palm oil products. I think we all agree that much more stringent controlling measures to tackle deforestation to make room for new plantations together with sustainability certificates could be right steps to minimise the problem. On the other hand, economic actors have to search for alternatives to palm oil to play their part in the protection of the environment and our planet.”

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