'The Oil for Ape Scandal' report in conjunction with Friends of the Earth

23 September 2005 General News

This is yet another disturbing report warning of impending doom for a much-loved endangered species. To the average shopper in Britain and the rest of Europe, North America or Japan, the problem of orang-utan extinction seems a world away - something distant, exotic and far removed from everyday life. Even sympathetic readers - supporters of conservation organisations - probably feel that by sending off a donation, they are doing all they can to help wildlife experts solve a problem on the other side of the planet.

What this important report spells out, however, is that anyone who buys chocolate, crisps, bread, cakes, detergents, toothpaste, shampoo, lipstick or a host of other products may be an unwitting partner in causing the extinction of the orang-utan.

It is our pounds, euros, dollars and yen that help pay for the conversion of beautiful, biodiverse wildlife habitat into profitable oil-palm plantations. It is our pension funds and investment banks that are investing in quick profits but not counting the environmental cost. And it is our elected representatives in government who are failing to ensure big corporations end the destruction.

The orang-utan is one of our closest relatives - intelligent, impressive, certainly deserving of our compassion and concern - and soon to be extinct.

But although this report focuses on Asia's only great ape, the problem goes way beyond the survival of orang-utan. Such charismatic animals serve as flagship species to conserve their habitat - which is also home to other primates, such as gibbons and proboscis monkeys, other mammals, from bats to elephants, hundreds of species of birds, and countless species of insect and micro-organisms. All are being bulldozed and burned to make way for palm oil, to supply the factories that churn out the products that billions of us buy.

This report should act as a wake-up call to consumers, voters, companies and politicians alike. It is time for people to demand change, and time for companies and governments to deliver it.

The governments of Malaysia and Indonesia must act immediately to end the conversion of their natural forests for oil palm. Governments in countries providing finance or a market for palm oil must legislate to make their corporations responsible and accountable for their impacts.

If not, it is we who will have to explain to our children in a few years time that orang-utan became extinct not because of a lack of knowledge, but because of corporate greed and a lack of political will.

Ian Redmond

Chairman, Ape Alliance

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