A study conducted by AP uncovered child labor in Indonesia and Malaysia is being used to make popular Western snacks, including Girl Scout Cookies.
Palm oil is a common ingredient in countless Western snacks, such as cookies and ice cream. Palm oil often causes environmental damage when it’s harvested, but sustainable versions of the oil have become more popular in recent years.
Although child labor is often swept under the rug as children simply accompanying their parents to work, in reality, it’s an integral part of the $65 billion palm oil industry, as AP’s study said.
Children perform a variety of tasks to harvest palm oil, including pruning and weeding trees with no shoes on and moving wheelbarrows full of fruit that are more than twice their body weight, the study noted.
Some children do just come with their parents to work because of a lack of accessible daycare, but even then, they are exposed to pesticides and fertilizers that are illegal in other countries, putting them in danger, according to AP’s report.
Even worse, a whole family may earn less than the $5 a box of Girl Scout Cookies costs after working for a full day, according to AP’s report.
Using records for US customs and data from those involved in the palm industry, including buyers, traders, and producers, AP traced the children’s labor to the products they make.
The study found that the child labor is used in products sold by household names in the US, including Kellogg’s, Nestle, Unilever, PepsiCo, and Ferrero, which makes Girl Scout Cookies.
Girl Scout Cookies have “certified sustainable” labels on their products, but its cookies actually contain “mixed” palm oil, which means they’re made with a blend of sustainable and unsustainable oil, according to AP’s report.
The Girl Scouts prides itself on being an empowering organization for girls, but some of its members feel its use of products that hurt the environment and take advantage of children go against that messaging, according to AP’s investigation.
For instance when Olivia Chaffin, a Tennessee-based Girl Scout, realized what was actually in the cookies she was selling, she started writing letters to the leader of Girl Scouts of the USA to get more information about how the company sources its palm oil for its cookies, according to AP.
AP also reported that Chaffin and her troop members have stopped selling the cookies since her discovery, and Chaffin started a petition to remove the oil.
“I thought Girl Scouts was supposed to be about making the world a better place,” Chaffin told AP. “But this isn’t at all making the world better.”
Ferrero released a “Supply Chain Transparency” memo in December regarding the use of palm oil in its products, which says that it works to “secure a 100% deforestation-free, and exploitation-free palm oil supply chain.”
The memo goes on to say that the company will also be working to identify and correct any issues with its suppliers, noting that Ferrero is willing to cut ties with any suppliers that don’t change their workflow when problems are identified.
“If these actions are not carried out by our suppliers accordingly, Ferrero will take the necessary measures, including the termination of the business relationship,” the memo states.
Insider reached out to Kellogg’s, Nestle, Unilever, PepsiCo, Ferrero, and the Girl Scouts for comment on this story.
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