Just guilty pleasures?
The impact of our consumer habits on certain parts of the world doesn’t often hit home, outside of the more obvious examples such as sweatshops and slave labour fuelled by the desire for luxury goods and cheap mass reproduction for the high street. We tend not to think of the more unassuming things that we encounter in our everyday lives as being potentially harmful or destructive to communities in some far-flung corner of the world.
Colombia’s part in drugs trade is well known but not so its cultivation of palm oil, which is emerging as a threat to some indigenous, rural communities. The Guardian today carries the story of UK palm oil consumption fuelling violence and forced evictions, following a report from the advocacy group War-on-Want. The UK is apparently the biggest exporter of palm oil which can be found in a variety of domestic products and food stuffs, particularly chocolates, crisps and cakes apparently. It is an ingredient which goes largely unnoticed yet a huge increase in demand has led to land seizure and violence by armed groups in poorer rural areas. It has been seen as an alternative to coca and promoted as a biofuel, but the reality is of increasing lawlessness by army backed paramilitaries with vested interests, often resulting in brutality and killings.
The Colombian government has opened an investigation into some cases with paramilitary links. As a nation of chocolate lovers if it that’s not a wake up call for our consumer conscience it’s certainly enough to sour the sweetest tooth.
Amnesty has issued two urgent actions in recent months expressing concerns for safety of Colombian citizens in relation to this issue with one case detailing harassment of a female member of a non governmental human rights organisation representing members of Afro communities targeted by paramilitary groups. Another case focused on death threats issued to another rural community who have denounced the development of illegal plantations for the production of palm oil.
Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.