- Following our major exposé linking chicken and pet food sold in Europe to the theft of traditional lands and murder of a prominent indigenous leader in Brazil, Earthsight and De Olho nos Ruralistas have discovered that Cargill and Bunge, the world’s two largest traders of Brazilian soy, are connected to the same abuses
- Cargill’s irresponsible stance on indigenous land rights and Bunge’s dubious track record on traceability mean they cannot at present distance themselves from the injustices and violence assailing traditional communities in Brazil
- This is further evidence that consumer-market regulations on imports of forest-risk commodities currently under debate must firmly tackle human rights violations
Guarani Kaiowá stage a roadside protest with banners reading "agro-business kills," and "yes to the fight for land and freedom" - Dourados, Mato Grosso do Sul state
American agribusiness giants Cargill and Bunge (two of the 'ABCD' group of just four companies which dominate global agricultural flows) are sourcing soy from a farm in Brazil on land stolen from its original owners, the Guarani Kaiowá, and with a long history of violently suppressing the indigenous group’s efforts to assert their rights.
Our investigation reveals that flaws in Cargill’s stance on indigenous rights and Bunge’s traceability of indirect suppliers expose the two multibillion-dollar US firms' supply chains to illegalities and violent conflict, despite their stated human rights commitments.
There Will Be Blood revealed that Brasília do Sul, a 9,700-ha soy farm in the state of Mato Grosso do Sul, sits on Takuara, the ancestral land of the Guarani Kaiowá who were violently and illegally evicted decades ago. The community’s land rights have been brutally suppressed in recent years. Marcos Veron, a prominent Kaiowá leader, was beaten to death by Brasília do Sul employees and hired gunmen during an attack in 2003 shortly after leading his people back to Takuara. No-one has ever been convicted of his murder. In the meantime, aggressive use of the courts by the farm’s owners – who have deforested the land almost completely – and inaction by the state have hindered the rightful restitution of Takuara to the Kaiowá, despite the federal government having for years officially recognised it as indigenous land.
What There Will Be Blood revealed:
Expand for further details on the report
There Will Be Blood revealed that Brasília do Sul, a 9,700-ha soy farm located in the state of Mato Grosso do Sul, sits on Takuara, the ancestral land of the Guarani Kaiowá, who were violently evicted from the land decades ago to make way for agribusiness expansion. The farm’s owners are the wealthy and politically influential Jacintho family, whose members have falsely asserted that Takuara has never had an indigenous presence, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary (including evidence corroborated by the Brazilian government itself).
While the Brazilian government has for years recognised the legitimacy of indigenous claims over Takuara, it has failed to return it to the Kaiowá as mandated by the country’s Constitution. The judicial system, including the Supreme Court, has on several occasions blocked or delayed action in favour of the indigenous community, which campaigners claim violates Constitutional provisions on indigenous rights.
In the meantime, the Guarani Kaiowá have endured a decades’ long campaign of violent suppression of their rights. Following an attempt to reoccupy their traditional lands in January 2003, one of the community’s leaders, Marcos Veron, was brutally murdered during an early morning attack against the Kaiowá perpetrated by Brasília do Sul’s employees and gunmen hired by Jacintho Honório da Silva Filho.
Da Silva Filho – who has a special place in Brazil’s agribusiness history for his role in helping revolutionise its cattle sector – bought Brasília do Sul in the 1960s and cleared almost all its native forests for pasture, later transforming it into a soy farm. He stood accused as the mastermind behind Veron’s murder and the attack against the Guarani Kaiowá, as well as witness tampering. He was never convicted. Prosecutors and experts consulted by Earthsight referred to the case as a clear example of impunity of a powerful businessman. Da Silva Filho died in 2019 aged 102.
Today the Guarani Kaiowá of Takuara continue to suffer the consequences of lack of access to their ancestral lands, being confined to a small piece of land in its periphery in precarious conditions and unable to live according to their customs and traditions.
The report uncovered the supply chain links between Brasília do Sul’s soy, a large chicken exporter in Brazil, and chicken sold by some of the UK’s largest retailers, including KFC, Sainsbury’s, Asda, Aldi and Iceland, as well as pet food sold by Germany’s largest supermarkets, including Rewe Markt, Netto Marken-Discount, Lidl, Aldi and Edeka.
It is now clear that the contamination of global supply chains with Brasília do Sul’s soy goes well beyond these and involves two of the world’s largest commodity traders.
Earthsight and De Olho nos Ruralistas’ field investigation discovered that Cargill’s facility in Caarapó, about 30km from Brasília do Sul, receives soy directly from the farm. Bunge’s processing unit in Dourados, a municipality a few kilometres north of Caarapó, meanwhile, buys soy from Brasília do Sul through intermediaries, making the farm one of Bunge’s indirect suppliers.
Imported soy is the leading contributor to Europe’s global deforestation footprint, and Bunge and Cargill are the EU’s main suppliers of the commodity. According to a recent report by Mighty Earth, they are also the traders most exposed to soy-related forest destruction in Brazil, totalling over 150,000 hectares of deforestation risk between them.
Cargill is the US’s largest private company by revenue, which totalled over $134 billion in 2021. Bunge, also an American company, operates in over 40 countries in the oilseed and grain markets.
A short statement sent to Earthsight by Cargill (in full here) confirmed the firm sources soy from Brasília do Sul. The company said it “respects internationally recognized human rights throughout our own operations, supply chains and the communities where we do business.”
Strikingly, Cargill added:
“We have robust procedures to ensure we are respecting […] regulated indigenous areas, from which we do not source grains. According to our specific soy grievance procedure, we have confirmed that the process to demarcate indigenous land in the mentioned area of Brasília do Sul farm is not regulated yet, so there´s no illegality on the local produce. If we find any violation of our policies and commitments, the farmer will be immediately blocked from our supply chain.”
And herein lies a problem with Cargill’s attitude towards indigenous rights in Brazil. While it’s true that due to colossal political failure Takuara has not yet gone through the final stage of ‘demarcation’ as Kaiowá land, the fact that the Brazilian government – through its indigenous affairs agency Funai – has confirmed it is ancestral indigenous land should be enough to make all current agribusiness activity on it illegal.
Antônio Eduardo Cerqueira de Oliveira, Executive Secretary of the Indigenist Missionary Council (CIMI), told Earthsight:
“The Constitution is clear. As soon as the land is recognised as traditional indigenous land based on a Funai study, all [private] titles over it are to be considered void.”
Cargill could have adopted a do-no-harm policy and cut ties with any farms involved in unresolved land disputes with indigenous and other traditional communities, instead of clinging on to misguided legal interpretations and making a mockery of its own human rights commitments.
The firm’s attitude helps reinforce hostility to indigenous rights in Brazil. In 2020, under the anti-indigenous presidency of Jair Bolsonaro, Funai changed one of its regulations to allow private properties to be registered on indigenous lands that had not yet completed their demarcation process. This violated previous rules that protected all indigenous lands regardless of their demarcation status.
Courts have struck down the rule in 13 states, including Mato Grosso do Sul, following dozens of legal challenges against it due to its clear violation of Constitutional indigenous rights. It has made no difference. A recent study by Agência Pública found that the regulation’s publication unleashed a new rush of land grabbing, with over 400 illegal farms occupying nearly 240,000 hectares registered on indigenous lands across Brazil since then. Mato Grosso do Sul is the state with the highest number of illegal properties registered, accounting for more than a third of the total. The Guarani Kaiowá are the most affected ethnicity in the country.
Land used as a landfill dump; Guarani Kaiowá community members are often forced to search them for food and clothing
If Cargill’s position is replicated throughout its Brazilian soy supply chains, one can only imagine how many soy farmers guilty of local communities’ rights violations get a free pass in Cargill’s monitoring system.
Bunge’s response to Earthsight’s request for comment is also troubling (see it in full here). The firm stated it “does not have Brasília do Sul farm in its supplier data base.” Bunge did not clarify whether this means Brasília do Sul is not a supplier. It could simply be it has not been able to trace soy back to the farm.
In the same statement sent to Earthsight, Bunge said it can now trace 64 per cent of its indirect suppliers in priority areas of the Cerrado biome. The company did not reply to Earthsight’s questions about what percentage of indirect suppliers it can trace in Mato Grosso do Sul or whether it has tried to trace indirect suppliers in the state at all.
Mato Grosso do Sul leads national rankings of killings of indigenous people, as well as of suicides and other social ills among indigenous communities due to extreme levels of deprivation, violence and lack of access to their traditional lands. Over the last three months alone, three Guarani Kaiowá have been killed as a result of conflicts with farmers.
Bunge further stated its Brazilian soybean purchase contracts have “clauses that require its suppliers to respect and protect human rights” and that “it does not purchase soybeans from commercial farms overlapping indigenous reserves.”
However, if it can’t trace soy back to all indirect suppliers, it’s unclear how it can enforce such a requirement. What’s more, the firm didn’t specify if by ‘reserves’ it means indigenous lands fully demarcated. If so, Bunge’s policy would suffer from the same shortcomings as Cargill’s and leave the company exposed to soy from Takuara.
Memorials for five Guarani Kaiowá who have been killed during struggle for the return of their lands, including the names of two 'Criança (child) Kaiowá'
Ultimately, Cargill and Bunge’s unimpressive stance on indigenous rights or traceability means consumers in Europe and elsewhere buying chicken, pork, dairy and other products linked to soy supply chains are often made unwitting contributors to the violence and marginalisation experienced by indigenous communities.
Shipment records analysed by Earthsight show that between 2014 and May 2022 Bunge exported more than 17 million tonnes of soy products to 16 countries in Europe with Spain, France and Germany as the main destinations. Cargill exported over 13.7 million tonnes, with Spain, Netherlands and the UK as the main markets. Both companies also export Brazilian soy products to the US.
In the UK, Cargill not only imports soy products from Brazil but also processes it into poultry feed and produces its own chicken products. Well-known retailers such as Tesco, Asda, Lidl, Nando’s and McDonald’s are among its buyers, according to an investigation by The Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ). Of these, Asda featured in There Will Be Blood for selling Brazilian chicken connected to soy from Brasília do Sul.
Nando’s told Earthsight it has been “working hard to implement” the UK Soy Manifesto since the TBIJ report’s publication. The firm said “it would be incorrect to say that Nando’s has a direct link to Cargill” and that it is “supplied in the UK by a company that is a customer of Cargill.”
In response to a question about whether it supports the inclusion of strong human rights provisions in UK legislation concerning imports of forest-risk commodities, Nando's was noncommittal. It simply stated it “welcome[s] the conversation” on the topic.
Lidl stated it operates “with a fundamental respect for the human rights of the people we interact with and take this responsibility extremely seriously” and that it is “committed to implementing due diligence on this topic.” Read Nando’s and Lidl’s full statements here. Tesco, Asda and McDonald’s did not reply to Earthsight’s requests for comment.
Companies in the UK linked to Cargill
Both Cargill and Bunge have been repeatedly accused of links to indigenous rights abuses in Latin America. In 2012, Bunge came under criticism from Survival International for sourcing sugarcane from the ancestral land of the Guarani people in the Jata Yvary community in Mato Grosso do Sul. In 2015, Bunge pledged not to renew the sourcing contracts and said it respected “local and indigenous community rights and the principle of free, prior and informed consent for land purchases and use.” In 2019, Mighty Earth named Cargill “the worst company in the world” after linking it to deforestation for soy on indigenous lands in the Gran Chaco, a biome spanning Argentina, Bolivia and Paraguay.
After years of campaigning, legally binding rules are finally being created in consumer markets – including the EU, UK and US – to end or minimise their contribution to global deforestation and related human rights abuses.
Negotiations on the EU’s proposed legislation on deforestation-free products are entering their final stages. It will be important that the law not only focuses on banning commodities linked to deforestation but also comprehensively tackles human rights violations. Both the European Parliament’s Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI) and the Council want companies to comply with international human rights law as part of their obligations under the upcoming regulation. Further developments will take place in the parliamentary plenary session and in trilogues where Parliament, the Council and the Commission will discuss the final law.
The UK Environment Act, approved by Parliament last year, does not directly address human rights violations and it is unlikely that this will be remedied via secondary legislation. The FOREST Bill, which was introduced in the US Senate and House last year, also fails to tackle violations of human rights enshrined in international law. It is therefore essential that indigenous rights abuses connected to the consumption of forest-risk commodities be more resolutely dealt with by the UK and US.