Cargill dubbed ‘worst company in world’ in damning Mighty Earth report


US commodities giant given the malign moniker amid tide of illegal deforestation, child labour and environmental abuse allegations across its global supply chains

Mighty Earth claim that “Cargill has exhibited a disturbing and repetitive pattern of deception and destruction.” Photo: Creative Commons

A withering new report from environmental campaigners Mighty Earth has labelled US agribusiness conglomerate Cargill “the worst company in the world”.

The rap sheet against the US’s largest privately held company is long. The report outlines cases of illegal deforestation, child labour and environmental abuses in its global soy, meat, palm oil and cocoa supply chains to back up the “audacious claim”.

“Cargill has exhibited a disturbing and repetitive pattern of deception and destruction,” the July report said. “[I]ts practices have ranged from violating trade embargoes and price fixing, to ignoring health codes and creating markets for goods produced with child and forced labour.

“Despite repeated and highly publicized promises to the contrary, Cargill has continued to bulldoze ancient ecosystems as it can within the bounds of the law — and, too often, outside of those bounds as well.”

There have been dozens of allegations of malpractice against the commodities trader over the past two decades.

From illegal land grabbing in Colombia and colluding with security forces to evict locals from palm oil concessions in Indonesia to enabling the use of child labour on cocoa farms in West Africa.

The charges in Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana – that Cargill knowingly purchased cocoa from farms that used child slaves – were filed in 2005 and in October 2018 a US court ruled that a lawsuit could proceed.

The Minnesota-headquartered firm, which has annual revenues north of $100 billion and counts McDonalds, Walmart and JBS among its clients, is also facing mounting pressure over its soy cultivation in Brazil’s Cerrado – the world’s most wildlife-rich savannah.

It is estimated that nearly half of the Cerrado’s natural vegetation – about 88 million hectares – has been destroyed. In Matopiba, a vast area called the ‘frontier of vegetation conversion’, 62 per cent of agricultural expansion, much of it for soy, replaced native vegetation between 2007 and 2014.

Cargill has a significant soy presence in the Cerrado and although the firm signed a pledge in 2014 to end deforestation in its supply chains by 2020, tangible progress has failed to materialise.

The firm, along with industry giants Bunge, ADM, Louis Dreyfus, COFCO and Amaggi, exported 57 per cent of all soy from Brazil in 2016 and is associated with two-thirds of the total deforestation risk directly linked to soy expansion, mainly in the Cerrado.

Cargill said in June that it and the industry would fail to meet its 2020 pledge and followed this up with a defiant rejection of the mooted ‘Soy Moratorium’ planned for the Cerrado.

In an open letter to local producers published on 24 June, its supply chain lead for Latin America said any such limits on the expansion of soy planting into new forest areas  – similar to that introduced in the Amazon in 2006 to stem deforestation – would be detrimental to the sector.

“The [planned] moratorium does not address social, economic and ultimately environmental challenges and is very likely to have consequences – albeit unintentionally – for farmers and communities dependent on agriculture for their livelihoods,” Helio Tamburri wrote.

FAIRR, an initiative promoting sustainable supply chain practices among investors, created a Manifesto, of which the moratorium is a part, in 2017 to pressure commodity traders and buyers to halt deforestation in the Cerrado.

Mighty Earth said of Cargill that they had “never encountered a company that has such difficulty translating high-level commitments into action”.

“Cargill has continued to drive the destruction of pristine landscapes, remaining one of the worst actors on the world stage, and one of the greatest threats to native ecosystems across the globe,” the report added.

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