Graphic by Pheonix McDowell
By Camille Haines
At 10 years old, just like many other young girls, I participated in Girl Scouts. I sold more than 300 cookies every year—winning countless prizes and earning countless badges. Other girls in my troop were selling as many, if not more. My troop used the money we raised to go on all sorts of activities. We went to Disney on Ice, attended a TinCaps game, and participated in charity work.
While we were showing off our new badges and high cookie sales, there were children the same age struggling through the hard labor that goes into harvesting the palm oil used for making those cookies.
The palm oil industry is a huge business in the Western Hemisphere, including the United States. According to CBS News, the global palm oil industry is worth about $65 billion. In countries like Malaysia and Indonesia, children participate in backbreaking labor.
They are often surrounded by toxic chemicals, wearing no gloves and having nothing but flip-flops to protect themselves. They pick at seeds all day long and often have to carry barrels double or triple their own weight. In many cases, an entire family may not even make enough money in a day to buy a box of Girl Scout Cookies.
The long and hard 12-hour days are not even the worst part for the children in this industry. An investigation by the Associated Press found that many children working in these fields are subjected to sexual assault and sex trafficking. Multiple police reports, along with interviews from more than 100 activists, further confirm this chilling discovery.
The Indonesian government refused to admit knowledge of the number of children currently participating in labor for the palm oil industry, but the U.N.’s International Labor Organization has estimated there are 1.5 million children working in these fields in Indonesia alone. In neighboring Malaysia, more than 33,000 children live in these same conditions.
Children thousands of miles away from us are suffering treatment that would not be tolerated in the United States and would definitely not be legal. It makes one question the reasoning behind our country’s active participation in this industry, and the reasoning for the Girl Scouts Organization to participate.
As a former Girl Scout who could sell a box of Thin Mints to anyone, I am calling upon the Girl Scouts Organization to make a change: To use ethically sourced products, to be transparent and honest and to practice human rights principles that reflect the values you teach young girls across the world.
One of the first things I learned as a Girl Scout was the “Girl Scout Law.” I hope that one day the organization teaching this law will practice it themselves.