Tide Detergent: The Hidden Truth

Tide-brand detergent is owned and produced by the massive American multinational consumer goods company Procter & Gamble. Detergent is a highly processed product, made from the combination of many natural and synthetic materials. Among these products are a host of surfactants made from either petrochemicals (derived from petroleum products) or oleochemicals (derived from plant or animals fats/oils) used to dislodge dirt and oils from clothing. Tide products are manufactured with oleochemicals, derived mainly from palm oil. Palm oil is an inexpensive and versatile vegetable oil used as a derivative for oleochemicals, as well as an ingredient in over 50% of packaged foods, cleaning and personal care products, cosmetics, and is increasingly being used to make biodiesel. Due to its size and international presence, P&G sources its palm oil from a variety of companies. The three largest companies — Musim Mas, Eagle High Plantations (BW), and Kuala Lumpur Kepong Berhad (KLK) — operate mainly in Malaysia and Indonesia and control multiple levels of palm oil production. Once harvested and refined from hundred of locations, large amounts of liquid palm oil is transported across the Atlantic ocean via large shipping vessels to P&G Fabric and Home Care Factories. These factories add the necessary chemicals and ingredients for Tide’s secret recipe, then package the detergent for sale. The most concerning aspect of the commodity supply chain is step one — farming and manufacturing of the raw materials needed to produce palm oil. Palm oil plantations have caused massive  deforestation across Indonesia and Malaysia. Furthermore, palm oil operations endanger plant and animal species, encourage child labor and have caused land grab conflicts among palm oil companies and local governments. As with many natural resources, a sustainable initiative known as the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) was developed to encourage sustainable behavior. However, RSPO standards are non-mandatory, and have allowed companies to continue harmful practices while claiming production of ‘sustainable’ commodities. Procter & Gamble is currently a member of this roundtable and reports that its palm oil is sustainable sources. In reality, only about 10% of the palm oil contained in P&G products such as Tide detergent originate from companies ‘reporting’ sustainable practices. As a large, multinational company, P&G must be responsible for setting the standard for natural resource commodities. We as customers are subsequently responsible for understanding and acknowledging the supply chains which provide us with commodity goods.