The dark side of Girl Scout Cookies

Every year in February, a silent army arises: little girls pulling brightly colored wagons storm the streets, tables fronted by enthusiastic young women adorn the entrance of every supermarket, and people reach for their wallets like there’s no tomorrow: it is girl scout cookie season.

Since the dawn of time (1917), the coercion to buy Girl Scout Cookies has been as natural as the change of the seasons. Girl Scout Cookies, grossing about $800,000,000 a year, have become an American staple. With around 75% percent of profits going directly back to the organization, an estimated $600,000,000 from cookie sales go to various local councils around the country (www.girlscouts.org).

This money can be used for just about anything approved by the Girl Scout National Council, such as leadership activities or troop trips. Often times, the revenue will go towards a service project in which girls work to improve their community.

Overall, this sounds very positive; young women working together to develop business and leadership skills. However, there is a dark side to the time honored tradition of girl scout cookies, and it’s not the empty calories or the steep price of four dollars per box– it’s palm oil.

According to the World Wide Fund for Nature, palm oil, derived from the West African Oil Palm, is commonly used in margarines, biscuits, breads, breakfast cereals, instant noodles, shampoos, lipsticks, candles, detergents, chocolates and ice creams.

Palm oil itself is not a danger to the consumer, but instead the effects of its production reap catastrophic results on rainforest ecosystems. Every year around the world, millions of acres of old growth rainforests are removed in order to plant oil palms. This results in the endangerment of hundreds of species, including rhinos, elephants, orangutans, and tigers. In some cases, indigenous peoples have even been forced off their land in order to make way for palm groves.

Palm oil not only poses a threat to animals, but laborers as well. In addition to being unsustainable, the palm oil industry has been associated with several humanitarian crises including child labor, slave wages, and unregulated hours.

The Girl Scouts of America are not blind to the issues that the palm oil in their cookies causes, but are slow in making progress to eliminate it. Instead, their website states that they are investing in sustainable sources and using as much honestly created oil as possible.  While this is a step in the right direction, “as much as possible” is a very vague denomination, and until palm oil disappears from the ingredient list, there is no guarantee that that $4 a box didn’t contribute to rainforest deforestation and slave labor.