Palm oil plantations have had a devastating effect on Indonesia's unique rainforest habitat and thus the population of endangered orangutans, Sumatran tigers, rhinoceros and thousands of other animals dependant on this ecosystem. If the destruction of this habitat for palm oil plantations isn't stopped, we could see these endangered species extinct within our lifetime.
What can you do as a consumer? Writing to your member of parliament, or signing petitions could still eventually create enough demand for change if enough people ask for it. If your government is as apathetic as mine you can still make a difference. Spread the word about palm oil and how to avoid it:
'to avoid buying palm oil, when buying food look for the label stating it is vegetable oil. Then look for saturated fat. If only vegetable oil (no animal fat listed) is used and there is 5%+ saturated fat in the product - you are buying palm kernel oil, palm oil or coconut oil, most probably palm.'
'if palm oil is used in cosmetics it must be labelled. No exceptions. However, it is usually not labelled as Palm oil. It is labelled as Elaeis guineensis. This is the name given to palm oil by the International Nomenclature Cosmetic Ingredients (INCI).'
A bit harder to avoid are possible palm oil derivitives:
'In non-food products like soaps and detergents, the list includes elaeis guineensis, sodium lauryl sulphate, cetyl alcohol, stearic acid, isopropyl and other palmitates, steareth-2, steareth-20 and fatty alcohol sulphates – all of which may be derived from palm oil.'
Sodium lauryl sulphate is the most common lathering agent used in toiletries.
From Borneo Orangutan Survival's site.
Further reading if you want to know more of the names palm oil deritives hide behind.