Murders spark palm oil alert

12 May 2008 - 11:22am
Press release

Shoppers are today warned that some products on sale in Britain may contain palm oil grown in Colombia after paramilitaries murdered or forced poor people off their land amid mounting demand to use the fruit of palm oil trees.

The warning comes from the charity War on Want in a new report, Fuelling Fear: The human cost of biofuels in Colombia, which shows how the poor are suffering in the global push for environmentally-friendly motor fuel.

According to the report, Colombia's armed forces are colluding with right-wing paramilitaries killing hundreds of Afro-Colombians and displacing thousands more to facilitate plantations of palm oil, which originated in Africa.

It is claimed that as much as 70 per cent of the population of Nariño's western mountain range in south-west Colombia has been forced off its land as paramilitaries capitalise on biofuels as the alternative to petroleum-based energy.

The National Federation of Oil Palm Producers cites Britain as the largest importer of Colombian palm oil, with the UK buying 48.5 per cent of the country's exports.

Besides the rush for biofuel as renewal energy, palm oil and related products are used in margarine, crisps, pastries, detergents, soap and toothpaste.

Less than two years ago, the UK government admitted that increased palm oil production in Colombia was likely to provoke mass forced evictions, land grabs, pollution of waterways and the destruction of forests.

But, War on Want says, Britain continues to provide military assistance to Colombia and refuses to reveal its value or use, despite fears that this aid may go to military units that abuse human rights, or reach paramilitary death squads.

It warns this backing is helping the regime export palm oil at the expense of the lives and livelihoods of the poor.

Mario Angulo Sanclemente, who works for War on Want's partner organisation Palenque el Congal, said: "The displacement of black communities in the Pacific area is state policy. One way of silencing the opposition is to destroy the social organisations and to move communities off their land."

Gemma Houldey, War on Want's international programmes officer for conflict zones, said: "The Colombian government and the paramilitaries are profiting from the scramble for biofuels while people who stand in their way are murdered and dispossessed. Some products bought in Britain could well contain ingredients which results from this brutality. The UK government must stop military aid to a Colombian government whose palm oil comes soaked in the blood and misery of so many poor people."

NOTES TO EDITORS

  • Gemma Houldey is available for interview.
  • The War on Want report, Fuelling Fear: The human cost of biofuels in Colombia, can be read here
  • A new War on Want film linked to the report, including interviews with Colombians supporting poor people hit by the biofuels industry, can be downloaded at the same link as the report. Broadcast-quality copies are available from the charity's media office.

CONTACT: Paul Collins, War on Want media office (+44) (0)20 7549 0584 or (+44) (0)7983 550728

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