A Commitment to Colombia: The Body Shop's Solution for Palm Oil Sourcing

This post is a response to Michael Solis' blog "Colombia's Internally Displaced People" on The Huffington Post, September 13, 2010.

Michael Solis's blog on displaced peoples sheds some light on the troubling global issue of internally displaced people. There were, however, some claims relating to The Body Shop that I am compelled to correct. Mr. Solis quotes a campaign group claiming that the palm oil The Body Shop sources from its Columbian supplier, Daabon, is harvested from a disrupted native burial ground that was bulldozed to plant palm. This is totally inaccurate. The Body Shop has never sourced palm oil, or any ingredient, from the land in question.

The Body Shop International began working with Daabon in 2007, sourcing sustainable palm oil -- and sustainable is an important fact here -- from its project in Santa Marta, Colombia. This small-holder model supports farmers diversifying into sustainable palm oil, providing seeds, tools, food, and importantly, access to markets. Daabon's systems have been commended and recognized by Eco-Cert.

We embarked on a diligent and lengthy search for a supplier who could provide a reliable source of sustainable palm because of the growing global concern that irresponsible palm oil production was destroying the world's ancient rainforests, affecting delicate ecosystems, devastating communities and driving certain animal species to extinction. As a brand committed to helping drive positive social change in the world, we are also committed to positive engagement, and our suppliers are no exception.

The dispute in question involves a piece of land in Las Pavas, purchased by the El Labrador Consortium in 2007 (Daabon is a shareholder in the Consortium). Following the land purchase, the community claimed the land was rightfully theirs. The Consortium maintains that they acted in good faith when buying the land.

To help resolve the issue The Body Shop and Christian Aid in the UK jointly commissioned an independent report, which was published in July 2010, following a six month enquiry. The report confirms that the community was using some of the land for farming and other activities prior to the purchase. It points to specific areas where on-the-ground cooperation could solve some of the difficulties of the case.

Based upon the findings the report, The Body Shop has called upon Daabon, to work with the community to find a long-lasting solution for the 123 families involved in the dispute.

Let us make this clear, The Body Shop has never sourced any ingredient from the Las Pavas area, or through the El Labrador Consortium, and we commissioned this report purely because of our belief in positive engagement. The Body Shop is committed to establishing the facts of the case, even though the palm oil we buy is not sourced from the land in dispute; and we want to use our influence positively to help find a solution. It could have been very easy for us to terminate the relationship with our supplier and wash our hands of the problem. However, it is not our brand philosophy to do this. Our preference is to help the parties concerned navigate through the problems with the goal of creating a positive outcome for everyone concerned.

We urge anybody interested in understanding more about our commitment in this area to visit our global website to read the full report.

Ed's Note: This blog post has been amended from it's original version to remove the reference to the Rainforest Alliance's certification of Palm Oil.