The campaign is being backed by Christian Aid, which is putting pressure on The Body Shop to find alternative sources for its palm oil supplied Daabon Organics.
Currently the Colombian company supplies The Body Shop with approximately 90 per cent of the palm oil that it uses to produce the thousands of bars of soaps that are sold in its retail outlets worldwide every day.
Consortium led to peasant eviction
The story was first bought to light by UK newspaper The Guardian, which reported that Daabon Organics was part of a consortium that instigated the eviction of peasants from a piece of land they had been farming for over ten years, situated approximately 300kms north of the country’s capital, Bogota.
The peasants were pushed off the land in mid-2006 by Colombian government forces, but they then reoccupied the land some six months later, stating their claim for legal rights given they had been present on the previously unoccupied land for more than three years.
The plight of the 123 peasants was taken up by Colombian lawyers, who have since been backed by Christian Aid in the fight to compensate them and allow them to continue farming the land.
Expansion of plantations means displacement
Catherine Bouley, a spokesperson for Christian Aid told the newspaper that the peasant’s situation underlined a huge problem of displacement in the country, which is likely to only worsen as the government expands its plan to triple the current size of palm oil plantations in the country.
The peasant’s legal action is likely to sit badly with The Body Shop, given that it has always prided itself on the ethical sourcing of its ingredients, and has also championed the rights of farm workers in developing countries.
The sourcing of palm oil has become an increasingly controversial topic within the personal care industry, especially given the significant amount of negative publicity generated from the deforestation of jungles to make way for palm oil plantations in Malaysia - currently the world's largest producer.
Ecological impact of palm oil farming
Environmentalists claim that this deforestation has caused irreparable damage to the eco system as well as endangering many indigenous species, including animals such as the Orangutan.
Another UK-based cosmetics player, Lush, has been extremely proactive in the area of palm oil, campaigning against the use of any palm oil in personal care formulations.
To highlight its stand the company recently launched a palm-oil free special edition soap moulded in the shape of a palm tree in the UK market, for which a portion of the sales are being donated to the Rainforest Foundation.