From March 27 to 31, Cailie Kafura and Sydney Swan attended the Conflict Palm Oil Leadership Summit in San Francisco, sponsored by the Rainforest Action Network, in effort to spread awareness about the conflict of Indonesian palm oil harvests.
The first two days involved 12 hours of leadership activism training where attendees were taught to recognize different systems of oppression, carry out action and delegate roles, said Kafura, 350 Stevens Point president.
“Non-violent direct action is key in making people become more aware,” said Swan, 350 Stevens Point member. “This is especially important for issues like palm oil where many are unknowingly contributing to the problem and are blind to the consequences.”
Kafura and Swan created banners in the Oakland Greenpeace warehouse and flash-mobbed a nearby grocery store. Throughout the day, activists informed customers about issues encompassing palm oil and products containing it.
Many use the term “conflict palm oil” due to corrupt industry practices that make the use of palm oil a conflict, Kafura said.
“The action network does not wish to boycott the use of palm oil entirely, as many may assume,” Kafura said. “The idea is to promote a more sustainable and ethical harvest that doesn’t infringe on human rights or cause extinction.”
Much of the native Indonesian forests are removed for cultivation of exotic African palm oil. This high level of deforestation has put endemic Sumatran orangutans, elephants, rhinos and tigers in critical endangerment, Swan said.
The most common technique of forest removal in Indonesia, slash-and-burn, tragically kills many endangered animals outright, Kafura said.
In addition to loss of biodiversity, destruction of carbon-rich rainforests and peat lands have become a major contributor to climate change, Swan said.
“I knew palm oil was an issue for orangutans in Indonesia, but I was unaware there was unethical use of child labor as well,” said Hannah Novicki, student who heard about conflict palm oil from Kafura. “I now check labels and avoid purchasing products containing palm oil as best I can.”
Unfortunately for the consumer, palm oil has many label synonyms such as cetyl palmitate, sodium kernelate and palmitic acid. Reading labels and staying up to date on the issue is important, Swan said.
An inspiring moment for them both was the opportunity to speak with a local Indonesian activist against conflict palm oil.
“He spends his life working to investigate palm oil cultivation from harvest to shipping,” Swan said. “It was really interesting to be able to talk with him and hear his experiences on the front-line of the issue.”
“It’s an empowering feeling that one person can make such a large impact,” Kafura said. “Bringing this back to our towns will have a cascading effect.”
Swan and Kafura plan to organize similar actions in Stevens Point by the end of April. 350 Stevens Point meetings are held at 8 p.m. on Mondays in the College of Professional Studies, room 116. For more information on the Rainforest Action Network, go to www.ran.org.