The tall, swaying giants that transport you back to your last beach vacation, as you snoozed on the sand listening to the dry clacking of their leaves, rustling above you in the gentle breeze. What on earth could be so controversial about something so inherently peaceful?
It's not so much the tree, but the reckless harvesting of the trees for their fruit in certain countries that has become a heavily-debated topic. The fruit of the palm creates various kinds of palm oil, which you’ll find in many skincare products and a huge number of products on the shelves at your grocery store. In foods, it is often used to replace butter, although it has a comparable amount of saturated fat. In cosmetic products, it is used to create a conditioning texture in lotions or balms, and hardness and creamy lather in soap. Palm fruit oil and palm kernel oil both provide nourishment for the epidermis and help strengthen the skin's lipid barrier.
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Why is palm oil so popular?
For good reason, actually. It's very inexpensive to grow, and it grows densely and heartily in fewer square feet than many other crops require - no wonder it has become the most widely used vegetable oil on the planet. The palm industry also provides hundreds of thousands of jobs in many countries around the globe - people need jobs, and this behemoth industry has plenty of them.
So what’s the problem?
The trouble, which is not unique to palm oil, is that it has been harvested carelessly, and without regard for the health of its surrounding ecosystems. With the increasing demand for palm oil, rainforests and other areas (especially in Southeast Asia) are being cleared to make way for increased production, driving native species out of their homes. Specifically, the orangutans of Borneo and Sumatra are in trouble because of the destruction of their habitats by the explosive expansion of palm plantations.
Additionally, and also not specific to the palm industry, there is substantial corruption in the industry, with deceit and poverty enabling terrible work conditions and even child labor in some places. We hope the growing awareness of the issue will start to encourage the industry to provide healthier employment conditions. If done with the right ethics in place, and under constant review by official entities created to enforce acceptable work conditions, it could continue to be a source of income for a huge number of people and their families
As we mentioned, this story is not unique to palm oil. Many vegetable oils and crops are produced in a similar method, which is why you should should feel proud when you buy your products - food, cosmetics, clothing - from responsible companies who source their products consciously. When produced by sustainable, informed methods, palm kernel oil can be a healthy and effective ingredient, extending the longevity of a bar of soap, and nourishing the skin with protective fatty acids. Of course, using sustainable palm oil is way more expensive, making it not as attractive to some buyers, especially larger corporations in the mass market.
WHAT DOES OSMIA USE?
For us, though, the cost-benefit analysis of using sustainable ingredients is a no-brainer. We will pay more for ingredients that are produced in a way that respects humans, plants, and animals. From the beginning, Osmia has used palm oil from countries that do not have significant orangutan populations, rather than from Malaysia and Indonesia, where the greatest conflict exists. Currently, our palm oil is from South America, certified organic (which means it is traceable back to its source) and certified by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO).
The debate is a complicated one, and some people choose to simplify matters by choosing the palm-free route in every way possible. For this group, we've created this easy-to-spot badge to help you choose the soap that's right for you. If going palm-free is important to you, look for this badge when purchasing our bar soaps. If you want to continue to use palm and but wish to support only responsible palm producers, any bar of Osmia soap can grace your shower.
We want to encourage you to vote with your dollars: purchase skincare products, clothing, and food from companies truly devoted to responsible ingredient sourcing, and educate yourself to figure out what feels right for your values. And if you have a question, just send us a message on our website - believe us, we’ve probably obsessed about it too!
With love and options from us to you,