Tracey Bailey grew up in Dysart, a coal mining town in Central Queensland, where her family lived a simple life and spent lots of time outdoors, camping, riding bikes and bush walking. A work placement in Jakarta in the early 1990s was an eye-opening experience for her as she witnessed competing pressures of economic development and environmental protection in developing nations.
“When a product is manufactured cheaply in a country with less stringent regulations than the developed world, the health of the workers and the costs to the environment are often not taken into account”, says Bailey. She became sceptical of multi-national brands spending millions on celebrity endorsements and marketing to build their brand, while their products were made in foreign factories for a tiny fraction of the final retail price and her thoughts began to turn to sustainability and social justice.
In 1996 Bailey took her parents to Camp Leakey in Tanjung Puting National Park in the south of Kalimantan in Indonesia. On this trip she experienced up-close encounters with orangutans and saw wildlife roam in natural surroundings. Established in 1971 by Birute Galdikas Camp Leakey is one of the last havens for the orangutans and the other species that share this wild jungle home, such as the proboscis monkey and toucan. “Without the work of Dr Galdikas and the Orangutan Foundation International and its supporters, this tiny peninsula of jungle would certainly be clear felled like the thousands of clear-felled hectares pressing at its boundaries,” says Bailey.
The trip to Camp Leakey was life changing for Bailey. She returned to Brisbane and decided to be part of the solution to the world’s environmental problems. Her time in Indonesia had revealed a critical environmental problem regarding palm oil. “Palm oil’s poorly-regulated agricultural and industrial processes are catastrophic for our planet and our nearest biological cousin. When you look into an orangutan’s eyes, it is so close to a human looking back – you can see their emotions, their vulnerability. This magnificent animal is master of its habitat but defenceless against the destruction humans are wrecking. They really are symbolic of the animals and people suffering all over our planet because we are messing with the natural order”, says Bailey.
According to WWF due to increasing palm oil demands, tropical forests are cleared every day for monoculture palm oil plantations. “Palm oil plantations are also the cause of numerous other environmental impacts including habitat loss, soil erosion, and air, water and soil pollution. The forests deemed suitable for palm oil plantations have a diverse range of tree species and other biodiversity as well. When these types of forests are cleared, it has a devastating effect on the large number of plant and animal species that reside in them” says Bailey.
Palm oil is used extensively in many manufactured foods, cleaning products and body care products. The absence of regulated labelling means products containing palm oil are making their way into households globally with many consumers unaware of its presence.
Bailey says that most claims of “sustainable” palm oil are unreliable. “The complex supply chain, hidden nature of palm oil use, and the fuzzy certification scheme have allowed manufacturers to get away with the guise of sustainable palm oil for too long. The only certain way to know if the palm oil used in a product is sustainable is to trace it back to the plantation where it was grown, and this is almost impossible. Consumers should be aware that even though a product is certified Cruelty Free, Organic or Vegan, this is no indicator of it being palm free, nor being ethical palm. The only sure way to help reduce the environmental destruction caused by palm oil cultivation is to avoid all palm oil.”
In 2003 Bailey launched online eco store Biome and she recently eliminated from all Biome stores hundreds of personal care, cosmetics and cleaning products that contained hidden palm oil ingredients. The process to become a store that is free from untraceable palm oil was lengthy, arduous and big financial risk, but it was the only ethical choice for Bailey.
With rainforests being felled for palm oil plantations in Malaysia and Indonesia, putting orangutans, plus Sumatran tigers and many other species on the endangered list it’s time to take action says Bailey, “Everyone can take action on protecting these vulnerable creatures by actively purchasing foods and personal care products that are 100% palm oil free”.