Girl Scouts: Cookies Cut Down Rainforests

Rainforest Action Network (RAN) has announced a new partnership with two 15 year-old Girl Scout activists who are petitioning Girl Scouts USA (GSUSA) to remove palm oil associated with tropical deforestation from the company’s iconic cookies. Today, RAN has launched a video call to action from the young activists as well as an educational webpage featuring a renegade Girl Scouts merit badge called the Rainforest Hero Badge.

RAN’s new campaign aims to elevate public awareness and apply pressure on Girl Scouts executives to respond to concern about palm oil in its cookies. Girl Scouts across the country can earn the newly embroidered Rainforest Hero Badge in the same way they earn traditional badges—through completing a list of activities that contribute to the protection of tropical forests and the endangered species that depend on them.

“Rainforest Action Network is proud to support these inspiring young women asking Girl Scouts USA to lead by example by aligning its products with its values,” says Rainforest Agribusiness Campaigner Ashley Schaeffer. “We invite this esteemed organization to mark the occasion of its 100th anniversary with an announcement that shows it is responsive to the young leaders it is helping to create. It is time Girl Scouts USA listens to its girls and ensures its beloved cookies do not cause orangutan extinction and rainforest destruction.”

In 2007, Michigan Girl Scouts Madison Vorva and Rhiannon Tomtishen won a Girl Scout Bronze Award for their research project on endangered orangutans in Borneo. They learned that the expansion of palm oil plantations is a primary cause of rainforest destruction in Indonesia and Malaysia, the only places in the world orangutans are found. They were soon horrified to discover that the cookies they and millions of other young girls around the country sell to support the organization use palm oil as a key ingredient. Since then, they have worked hard to convince GSUSA to stop using palm oil until it can be shown to be rainforest destruction free. Frustrated at the lack of response from Girl Scouts leadership, the girls approached RAN and requested the assistance of their experienced staff of corporate campaigners.

In response to the work of Vorva and Tomtishen, Kellogg’s, which owns one of two companies that produce Girl Scout cookies, recently announced they would invest in ‘Green Palm’ Certificates.

“Kellogg’s decision is an important first step to improve palm oil operations on the ground, however, it is not a solution. Purchasing Green Palm Certificates does not guarantee that the palm oil in Kellogg’s food products is free of tropical deforestation and habitat loss for endangered species,” said Madison Vorva.  

Kellogg’s sources its palm oil from agribusiness giant Cargill Inc., the primary target of RAN’s three year-old palm oil campaign. Rhiannon Tomtishen says, “As the largest importer of palm oil into the U.S. and a major supplier of palm oil for Girl Scout cookies, we hope that Cargill will work with RAN to adopt a strong palm oil policy to create safeguards in its supply chain. We are very disturbed by the connection between Girl Scout cookies and Cargill-supplied palm oil, which is driving deforestation, climate change, and human rights violations including the use of slave labor.”

The US Department of Labor recently added palm oil cultivated in Indonesia to the global list of commodities linked to slave labor and/or child labor. Global demand for palm oil has skyrocketed in recent years.  Palm oil is now found in half of all packaged goods.  This upsurge in use has led to massive deforestation in some of the most biologically diverse forests on earth.

Before launching this call to action, RAN sent a letter of concern to Kathy Cloninger, the Executive Director of GSUSA, joining the Union of Concerned Scientists, the Center for Biological Diversity, Orangutan Foundation International and the organization Cultural Survival who have already expressed concern to GSUSA. GSUSA has not responded to RAN’s letter.

Tropical rainforest destruction is responsible for 15% of current global greenhouse emissions. Indonesia is now listed as the third largest carbon emitting country after the US and China. A staggering eighty-five percent of the country’s emissions are from rainforest and peatland destruction. The leading cause of this destruction is the expansion of palm oil plantations. The Indonesian government has announced plans to convert approximately 18 million more hectares of rainforests, an area the size of Missouri, into palm oil plantations by 2020.

In recent years, Rainforest Action Network and other organizations have successfully pressured many leading US companies, including General Mills, Unilever, Nestle and Walmart to adopt sustainable palm oil policies.

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