What can consumers do?

What’s the real story behind palm oil?

Forget about the misconceptions and boycotts; it’s time for the real facts about how palm oil can make a positive impact. On this page you’ll find out how sustainable palm oil can help create a better future for nature and millions of smallholder farmers.

Palm oil: an invisible ingredient

Did you know that about 60% of the composite products in an average supermarket contain palm oil? That includes products like biscuits, sweets, margarine, shampoo and detergents. By law, all food product packaging must list the ingredients, but this doesn’t apply to products like detergent or toothpaste.

But what is it really? Oil palms are grown mainly in Asia, Africa and Central and South America. Palm oil is obtained from the large orange coloured fruit. It’s the most widely used vegetable oil in the world.

Unfortunately, palm oil doesn’t have a good image. It’s associated mainly with deforestation and the threat this poses to the survival of the orang-utan. Not only that, but many brands actively promote their ‘palm oil free’ products, which gives consumers the impression that palm oil is always a bad ingredient and should be avoided. This is a real shame, because what many people don’t know is that sustainable palm oil is crucial for our future food security and for conserving nature

Boycotting palm oil is not a solution

Some companies boycott palm oil because they believe it’s a more sustainable option. But this is poorly thought out. If palm oil is replaced by an alternative vegetable oil, such as soybean oil or rape seed oil, a lot more agricultural land would be needed. Oil palms produce 4 to 10 times as much oil as other oil crops, which makes palm oil relatively cheap and also means it takes up less agricultural land.

Another problem with palm oil boycotts is that they take away any influence over how the oil is produced, depriving companies of the opportunity of working with sustainable palm oil. The way oil palm cultivation has expanded over the past few decades has led to deforestation, but if sustainable cultivation practices are adopted the forests can remain intact. And that benefits nature conservation and improves the livelihoods of millions of oil palm farmers.

Why Solidaridad backs palm oil

Solidaridad and other civil society organisations back palm oil. This is why:

  • Oil palms are highly efficient. They even produce a crop every two weeks throughout the year. After the farmer collects the fruit, it is pressed to extract the oil.
  • Smallholders with a relatively small plot of land can obtain an income from oil palms every month of the year. That’s not the case for many other crops, such as maize or soybeans, which also require much more land to obtain the same level of income.
  • This continuous income stream allows smallholder farmers to invest in their homes and look after their families. Palm oil can lift them out of poverty within a single generation.

93% of palm oil in food is certified

European companies are the main customers for sustainable palm oil. Palm oil certified under the standards set by the RSPO (Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil) makes up 93% of all palm oil used in food products sold in Europe. The RSPO label is one of the best standards for sustainable oil palm cultivation and one of the 12 leading certification marks for food recognised by Milieu Centraal, the Dutch independent consumer information site.

Opportunities for sustainable palm oil

Around 4.5 million hectares of oil palm plantations around the world are managed according to the RSPO’s sustainability criteria. This area includes 300,000 hectares of conservation area protected and managed by sustainable oil palm cultivation practices. This area is almost twice the area of Greater London. If more companies and consumers ban palm oil, the demand for sustainable palm oil will fall, which will be bad news for both farmers and nature. In recent years civil society organisations, governments, companies and farmers have made much progress in making the sector more sustainable. Government intervention and rewards for sustainable production have together considerably reduced deforestation to make way for oil palm plantations in Indonesia and Malaysia.

Take action

A palm oil boycott will not solve the problems – and may even make them worse. The best alternative to palm oil is sustainable palm oil! But first, palm oil has to have a better image. And consumers must continue to buy products containing palm oil.

Take action

  • Continue to buy products that contain palm oil. Don’t be tempted by ‘sustainable’ palm oil free claims. The palm oil used in products in European supermarkets is 93% sustainable and makes a big difference for the people that produce it and for fragile nature.
  • Ask supermarkets and brands if their products contain sustainable palm oil. If they do, ask them to put the RSPO label on the packaging so that consumers like you know the products contain certified sustainable palm oil. And if they don’t? Then it’s time to protest!
  • Consult the WWF palm oil scorecard, where you can find which companies or brands do not support sustainable palm oil and which ones are doing better.
  • Sign the Solidaridad manifesto (in Dutch) targeting governments and companies: we want everything in the shops to be made in solidarity with people, the environment and future generations. 
  • Support the work of Solidaridad with oil palm smallholders and for fair trade: make a donation (in Dutch).
  • Support the work of other organisations that work on sustainable palm oil.
  • Share this page with your friends. The more people know about the story behind palm oil, the better.

The Palm Oil Barometer

To launch the public debate on palm oil, Solidaridad published the Palm Oil Barometer in 2022. Solidaridad drew up this-depth review of the palm oil industry in cooperation with the many organisations that represent smallholder palm oil farmers in Asia, Africa and Latin America. The prevailing image of palm oil in Europe is one-sided and pays no attention to the part played by millions of smallholders active in palm oil production. The main conclusion: invest in oil palm smallholders instead of boycotting palm oil!

It doesn’t matter that just 9% of the worldwide market for palm oil is in Europe. It may be invisible here, but it’s all the more visible in Asia and Africa. Almost every meal includes palm oil in one way or another, making it a crucial ingredient for the poorest people on earth. That’s why it’s important that farmers around the world learn more about the sustainable cultivation of this essential food resource.

What is Solidaridad doing on palm oil?

Solidaridad champions the role of smallholder farmers in the palm oil sector in countries like Indonesia, Colombia and Nigeria. There are 3 to 4 million palm oil smallholders and their families who are totally dependent for their income on growing oil palms. Their productivity is lower and they also often know little about sustainable oil palm cultivation. Solidaridad supports many smallholder producers by providing education and training, as they often find it difficult to comply with all the standards for sustainable oil palm cultivation and the new European anti-deforestation legislation.


‘Smallholder farmers account for about 30% of all palm oil production, and that share is expected to grow to 50% in 2030. We must listen to what they say they need to produce the oil sustainably. And pay them a price for the oil that allows them to invest in sustainable production and support their families,’ says our director, Heske Verburg. Solidaridad is also pushing for legislation to combat deforestation that takes the interests and capabilities of smallholder farmers into account.


This webpage is a translation of the Solidaridad Netherlands webpage. Solidaridad is co-financing and managing the Sustainable Palm Oil Choice.

Palm oil: an invisible ingredient