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Power in your purchase – an interview with Orangutan Alliance

Power in your purchase – an interview with Orangutan Alliance

With so many issues wrapped up in your weekly shop, it’s easy to get confused with what to buy. But thanks to the hard work of Orangutan Alliance, the choice just got a little easier. Heather Paul talks to Orangutan Alliance founder Maria Abadilla about their mission to unmask palm oil.

When was Orangutan Alliance’s palm oil free certification launched and what inspired you to create the certification?

The Orangutan Alliance was launched in 2017. Having looked at the issue, like many of Palm Oil Investigations’ followers, we wanted to assist with a solution and also empower others to be able to do the same. Having followed the issue for some time as current professional members of the food industry, we thought that we had a role to play, starting with the basic causes: demand, consumer awareness and choice. This is why we created our certification program for palm oil free products. We also saw the opportunity to develop another funding resource for people working in Orangutan conservation through profits from the certification program.

What professional backgrounds do you all have within the industry?

Our team is currently comprised of beauty, food technology and labelling experts. We have an Australasia team, an EU team and are about to set up our Americas’ team. They look after certain portfolios in those regions. I have come from a marketing and product development background but also keep up to date with groups in conservation and animal protection. The benefit of having a team that has qualifications in these areas is that we understand policy and labelling regulations required for brands. We also keep up to date with new market trends and work to create opportunities that support the brands we certify. When we empower consumers and brands that create responsibly, we help create change and provide a new funding opportunity for orangutan conservation from our profits.

Orangutan Alliance is registered as a charity – is there a reason why you decided to go down this path rather than a not for profit, social enterprise or business structure?

Not for profit is a broad category that includes registered charities. We are a not-for-profit organisation registered with the Australian Charities and Not-For-Profits Commission, this means our financial accounts become public record with the ACNC.  We wanted to assure the public our profits are not kept by the organisation and must be used to pursue our purpose, which is to support orangutan conservation and habitat protection.  A social enterprise or business enterprise can be for profit. Our set up is purely focussed on creating revenue to pursue our certification program and organisation’s purpose.

How will your certification help consumers?

Consumers want to be part of the solution. For some it’s about seeking full disclosure on food and also supporting the causes they feel strongly about, through their purchase choices. Our easy to identify, Palm Oil Free Seal assists consumers in recognising if a product is palm oil free whether they are choosing it for health or personal reasons. We also develop campaigns to create awareness, empower consumers and support conservation projects.

Your palm oil free, seal of approval has already made its way on to supermarket shelves. Can you tell us which brands you have certified so far and if you have any others in the pipeline?

The Orangutan Alliance has certified several brands including Nuttvia, Melinda’s Gluten Free Goodies and Honestly Products. We can certify products internationally and have several on the pipeline in beauty, snacks and cleaning categories.

Orangutan Alliance has recently teamed up with Palm Oil Investigations (POI).  Can you tell us more about this and how you intend to collaborate? 

Our partnership with POI is a critical one. From the beginning, they have been an inspiration to me personally. Their investigative reporting and passion for environmental and animal protection has created critical change for companies, consumers and conservation.  Starting this year, we will be their recognised certification partner checking all POI approved products. We will also bring selected cross-promotional opportunities to brands we certify in both platforms, and work closely with POI on selected joint campaigns. For example, we recently shared their fundraising campaign for Orangutan Foundation International and Juno, calling on our followers and brands to donate to their cause.

You have some great ambassadors on board.  Can you tell us a little bit about these people?

We have several amazing ambassadors around the world who, like us, are passionate about raising awareness and championing consumer choice. We have Dr Joanna McMillan, who is one of Australia’s favourite nutrition and healthy lifestyle experts, Jayaprakash Bojan, who captured the National Geographic Photo of the Year of an orangutan crossing the river, and Roxy Rogan of Wild Education, who creates change through education and wildlife tours for schools. We have several others about to come on board also.

I see Orangutan Alliance has been actively involved in the push for mandatory labelling of palm oil.  Why is this so important? 

In several countries around the world, palm oil is declared on food and all oils are labelled. We believe this also needs to happen in countries that don’t declare palm oil on labels to assist consumers looking for it for health or value-based reasons.  The Orangutan Alliance wants to assist the food, household and beauty industry to consolidate the palm oil free declaration on pack with the easy to recognise and use Palm Oil Free Seal. Another part of our role is to help consumers have choice in their purchase.

You have been to parliament on the labelling issue and have also recently done press with Senator Nick Xenaphon.  Can you tell us more about this? 

We partnered with several mandatory labelling advocates including Adelaide Zoo, Palm Oil Investigations, Jane Goodall Australia and Senator Xenophon to champion the voice of consumers who have been requesting this issue be considered for Australia and New Zealand in particular.  Consumers want transparency in their labelling and this is not going to go away. The 2018 Mintel Food Trends reports shows full disclosure on food and clear labelling is important for consumers for health and value based decisions.

What is your goal for the certification?

Our goal is to be the international standard for palm oil free certification services, providing multiple revenue opportunities and measurable results in our grants and awareness programs. We are the leading palm oil free program with strong industry partnerships that enables new market opportunities for the manufacturers and brands we certify

How can brands and manufacturers get on board with Orangutan Alliance and what are the steps involved

Brands can use the enquiry form on our website We then review their request and get them to fill in our application form and relevant declarations.  Their application is then provided to the relevant testing group region to check. If successful they are granted our certification and seal for use on their packaging and promotional materials.

Do you have any further comments to add?

The issue of palm oil is a complex one but it is also an ecological emergency. Consumers want to be part of the solution and this comes through their purchase choice.

Find out more about Orangutan Alliance and how they’re handing back the power to consumers a

About The Author

Heather Paul

Heather Paul is currently completing a Masters in Sustainability and Climate Policy in Perth. She has a passion for wildlife conservation and ecotourism and loves traveling and going on adventures with her dog. She hopes to work in the sustainability sphere and be able to inspire people to live more compassionately and sustainably.