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Perspective | Why this Girl Scout and her troop refuse to sell cookies this year

Ballard teen has strong concerns about child labor in palm oil industry.

Early this year, a few Girl Scout troops across the country announced they wouldn’t be selling Girl Scout cookies because one manufacturer of the famed cookies has persisted in using palm oil with unknown sources. A local Girl Scout troop has decided it’s not selling cookies this year, either, after hearing reports about child abuse in the palm oil industry.

The Associated Press reported in December 2020 that tens of thousands of kids in Malaysia and Indonesia, the world’s major palm oil suppliers, are being exploited as child labor for no pay (or very little pay). Some children are so young that their parents are bringing them along to the fields because of a lack of child care, and some are pulled out of school to help their parents meet their production targets for palm oil companies. Many girls are sexually abused in this plantation setting. 

The kids work with their parents and are exposed to toxic chemicals, injuries and other dangerous situations. The  Associated Press investigation found many of the kids are not ever educated and aren’t literate, and they are often smuggled into other countries and at risk of becoming victims of human trafficking. And one of the two manufacturers of the cookies, Ferrero, was connected to producers that may use child labor. 

Anna Hoffman of Ballard, 14, who has happily sold many, many boxes of cookies in her nine years as a Girl Scout, is part of a troop that has decided not to sell the cookies this year to show its disapproval of practices in the palm oil industry.  She agreed to take part in a Q&A about that choice.

Q: Why have you decided to stop participating in cookie sales this year?

A: “I am not selling Girl Scout cookies this year because the palm oil that is in the cookies doesn’t have a known source. This means that even though most of it might be sustainably grown, the rest could be from any number of plantations that not only cause harm to the planet, but also to other girls working there.

My whole troop (43765) is refusing to sell this year, and I’ve heard of other troops that also aren’t selling. 

Q: Are you doing things to make the Girl Scouts organization aware of the problems in the palm oil industry?

“I am planning on creating a website with a poll to determine how many people knew about this, how many bought cookies anyway, if they would be willing to pay extra for cookies in order to ensure sustainably sourced ingredients. 

Then I will send a letter to The Girl Scouts of Western Washington and the GSUSA and explain why I didn’t sell and what the survey indicated. Hopefully, they can use the information to decide how to deal with this problem next year when it’s cookie season again.

I think the biggest problem with replacing palm oil with another type of oil is that everyone knows what Girl Scout cookies are supposed to taste like, and if the flavor was changed there may be dissatisfaction. This could lead to fewer sales and less money for the Girl Scouts to use towards camps and other activities. 

The other option would be for the Girl Scouts to source their palm oil from plantations without child abuse issues that produce their oil sustainably.” 

Q: How do you feel about choosing to not sell this year?

“I’m disappointed that I’m not selling this year, but it also would be been more difficult, especially since I would only be able to do it online. I’m looking forward to hopefully selling next year.” 

Q: When you were selling, what was your favorite cookie?

“My favorite cookie is a tie between Samoas and Toffee-tastic. Samoas and Thin Mints usually end up selling the best.” 

Palm oil labor abuses tied to world’s top brands, banks

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