LONDON (AFP) – Sixteen Greenpeace activists dressed as orang-utans on Monday scaled the front of the Unilever building in London on Monday to highlight the environmental devastation caused by the Anglo-Dutch company’s use of palm oil.
Soaring global demand for palm oil is creating an environmental crisis and threatening the existence of the endangered orang-utan, the group says.
Tourists and office workers looked on in amusement as more than a dozen orang-utans, some perched high up on a stone balcony overlooking the Thames, jiggled to the strains of the classic Jungle Book hit: “I wanna be like you.”
According to Greenpeace chief executive John Sauven, more than 1,600 orang-utans were killed on palm oil plantations in 2006.
“At that rate of loss, orang-utans are not going to survive very long in the world. Their population is being decimated by the palm oil industry,” he told AFP after talks with top Unilever executives in the company’s headquarters at Victoria Embankment in London.
Unilever, which owns brands such as Dove, Persil and Flora, is the world’s largest buyer of palm oil, using 800,000 tonnes a year in food products and 500,000 tonnes in soap and cosmetics.
Rather than urging a boycott of consumer products, Greenpeace says it wants Unilever to publicly declare a moratorium on the destruction of Indonesian rainforests.
“As the world’s biggest buyer of palm oil, Unilever has to take responsibility,” Sauven said.
Environmental activists have frequently sounded the alarm about the ecological impact of the palm oil industry, which is responsible for deforesting huge swathes of rainforest and peatlands in order to establish oil palm plantations.
Since 1990, 28 million hectares of Indonesian rainforest — an area slightly bigger than Britain — have been destroyed, mostly to clear the way for palm oil plantations, Greenpeace says.
Demand for palm oil, led by the food, cosmetics and biofuel industries, is expected to double by 2030 and triple by 2050, when compared to figures for 2000, Greenpeace says.
According to the Orang-utan Foundation, the primates have lost 80 percent of their habitat over the last 20 years.
There are believed to be only 50,000 left in the wild, down from 315,000 in 1900.