Letter Asking Girl Scouts to Change Their Cookie Recipe

June 9, 2010 

Ms. Kathy Cloninger, CEO
Girl Scouts of the United States
420 5th Avenue
New York, NY 10018-2798 

Dear Ms. Cloninger: 

As a human rights organization dedicated to defending the rights of Indigenous Peoples and protecting their cultures, lands, and livelihoods, Cultural Survival hopes the Girl Scouts will take a leadership role in curtailing grave abuses of Indigenous Peoples’ rights in Malaysia and Indonesia. We urge you to review and revise your Girl Scout cookie recipies to be sure that through your cookie sales you are not contributing to the expansion of oil palm plantations in Southeast Asia, at great cost to Indigenous Peoples and the environment. 

Expansion of oil palm plantations is causing deforestation, destruction of ecosystems, loss of biological diversity, abuses of Indigenous Peoples’ land rights, corruption, repression and impoverishment of forest-dwelling communities. Certain animals, such as the orangutan, are only found in these countries; when their rainforest habitat vanishes, so will they.  

Many of the corporations that produce palm oil clear-cut Indigenous Peoples’ forests in order to establish monocrop plantations, thereby destroying the richly complex ecosystems that Indigenous Peoples have depended on for millennia. They disregard Indigenous Peoples’ territories, property, and their traditional uses of forest plants and animals for food, drink, medicine, building materials, trade, and spiritual practices. They ignore Indigenous Peoples’ right to free, prior, and informed consent concerning development projects that affect them. Many thousands of Indigenous families have been displaced by the plantations, leaving them no alternative but to become de facto bonded laborers gathering oil palm fruit for the corporations.  

As long as consumers of palm oil remain silent, these abuses will continue. But major purchasers of palm oil, including the Girl Scouts, can take a stand to demand an end to the abuses.  

We understand that the Girl Scouts are members of the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), however this organization has done an inadequate job of enforcing its own standards and setting them rigorously enough to ensure that palm oil production is done in a manner that is environmentally sustainable and socially responsible.  Many members of RSPO are still dependent on suppliers, including Sinar Mas and Cargill, that are actively engaged in deforestation and human rights violations for the production of palm oil. 

The Girl Scouts have a particularly strong moral obligation to act on this matter in order to lead by example in fulfilling the Girl Scout oath to create “girls of courage, confidence, and character, who make the world a better place” and to protect the health of Girl Scouts and their customers.  Indeed, we know that individual Girl Scouts of courage, confidence, and character have already been urging the organization to stop using palm oil in your cookies, as yet to no avail.   

We ask that the Girl Scouts immediately become a signatory to the pledge to protect rainforests, communities and the climate developed by the Rainforest Action Network (RAN) or develop your own palm oil policy in line with RAN’s pledge stating the following:  

    As an organization that uses palm oil in our products, we are alarmed to discover the social and environmental impacts of palm oil production and expansion in tropical rainforest ecosystems around the world. Our organization is committed to protecting rainforests, communities and our global climate. We call on all agribusiness companies and major food producers – particularly Archer Daniels Midland (ADM), Bunge, Cargill, Kellogg and General Mills – to use their influence with the palm oil industry to require standards that protect rainforests and peat swamps; that do not allow any use of fire for land conversion; and that respect the free, prior and informed consent of communities impacted by palm oil expansion.  

    We pledge our organization to not purchase any palm oil that violates these standards, and we commit to work with Rainforest Action Network to ensure that sustainable alternatives to palm oil from destroyed rainforests are available in the marketplace. (See here for more information.) 

We urge you to inform your palm oil suppliers that you have signed this pledge and that you will only purchase certified sustainable palm oil.  In the absence of certified sustainable palm oil, the Girl Scouts should phase out palm oil from your cookies (see Rainforest Action Network’s “Pathway to Change”).   
Finally, we request that the Girl Scouts investigate and report back on alternatives to palm oil in your cookies in order to provide the public with a healthy product and curtail the environmental damage and human rights abuses caused by the palm oil industry. By doing so, the Girl Scouts Organization of the United States will show leadership on this very important issue.  

As a former Girl Scout, I will appreciate your attention to this important matter and look forward to hearing back from you. 


Paula Palmer, Director
Global Response Program 

Barry Horowitz
Vice President and General Manager
Girl Scout Merchandise
Girl Scouts of the USA 

Florence Corsello
Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer, Business Services
Girl Scouts of the USA  

Connie Lindsey
Chair, National Board of Directors
Girl Scouts of the USA  

Jan A. Verhage
Chief Operating Officer
Girl Scouts of the USA  

Delphia York Duckens
Senior Vice President, Fund Development
Girl Scouts of the USA  

Laurel J. Richie
Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer
Girl Scouts of the USA 

James M. Jenness
Chairman of the Board, and 

A.D. David Mackay
President and Chief Executive Officer
Kellogg Company  

Dr. Celeste Clark
Senior Vice President, Global Nutrition, Corporate Affairs and Chief Sustainability Officer
Kellogg Company 

Denise Mitchell and Brenda Smith
Little Brownie Bakers  

Selena Sanderson
SVP and General Manger
ABC / Interbake Foods LLC 
Rhiannon Tomtishen and Madison Vorva