Guarani Kaiowá stand with a picture of Marcos Veron, an indigenous leader and activist murdered while attempting to lead his community back to their ancestral homeland
August 19, 2022, London
Soy supply chains reaching supermarkets in the UK and various European markets are linked to indigenous rights abuses and even murder in Brazil, an investigation can reveal.
American agribusiness giants Cargill and Bunge source soy – one of the main ingredients in modern animal feed - from Brasília do Sul, a 9,700-hectare farm in Brazil with a long history of violent suppression of indigenous people’s land rights. Our investigation demonstrates how Cargill’s irresponsible indigenous rights policy and Bunge’s questionable traceability of indirect suppliers expose their supply chains to illegalities and violent conflict, despite their stated commitments on human rights.
In May the report ‘There Will Be Blood’ by Earthsight, a London-based environmental group, and De Olho nos Ruralistas, which monitors agribusiness in Brazil, exposed links between chicken and pet food sold by some of Europe’s largest retailers and Brasília do Sul.
Brasília do Sul sits on Takuara, the ancestral land of the Guarani Kaiowá, now almost completely deforested for farming. One of its leaders, Marcos Veron, was beaten to death by Brasília do Sul employees and hired gunmen during an attack in 2003. No-one has ever been convicted for these crimes.
Despite the federal government having for years officially recognised Takuara as indigenous land, the Kaiowá have been denied their right to return.
Field investigations 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 near Caarapó, buys soy from Brasília do Sul through intermediaries.
A short statement Cargill provided to Earthsight confirmed the firm sources soy from the farm, while saying it “respects internationally recognized human rights throughout our own operations, supply chains and the communities where we do business.”
However, the firm also stated “…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.”
Rubens Carvalho, Earthsight’s head of deforestation research, said: “This response shows the problem with Cargill’s attitude towards indigenous rights in Brazil. The fact the Brazilian government has confirmed it is ancestral indigenous land should be enough to make all current agribusiness activity on it illegal. Instead of sending a clear signal about its support for human rights and cutting ties with farms involved in unresolved land disputes, Cargill’s stance emboldens the most archaic segments of Brazil’s agribusiness which are hostile to indigenous rights.”
Bunge’s response to Earthsight’s request for comment is also concerning. The firm stated it “does not have Brasília do Sul farm in its supplier data base” but did not clarify whether this means Brasília do Sul is not a supplier, or that it has not been able to trace soy back to the farm.
Bunge said it can 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.
Carvalho added: “Cargill and Bunge have taken an unimpressive stance on indigenous rights and traceability. This leads to consumers in Europe and elsewhere buying chicken, pork, dairy and other products linked to soy supply chains being made unwitting contributors to the violence and marginalisation experienced by indigenous communities.”
Trade data analyses 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.
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 Tesco, Asda, Lidl, Nando’s and McDonald’s are among its buyers. Asda also featured in There Will Be Blood for selling Brazilian chicken connected to soy from Brasília do Sul.
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.
Earthsight believes the upcoming EU law on deforestation-free supply chains should not only focus on banning commodities linked to deforestation but also tackle human rights violations in these chains, with robust enforcement mechanisms to guarantee compliance. Other major consumer markets, such as the UK and US, must ensure they too sufficiently address international human rights violations connected to forest-risk commodities.
Notes to editors:
- Earthsight is a UK-based non-profit organisation that uses in-depth investigations to expose environmental and social crime, injustice and the links to global consumption. • The report can be read here. It includes the companies’ full responses to Earthsight’s findings.
- According to a recent report by Mighty Earth, Cargill and Bunge are the traders most exposed to soy-related forest destruction in Brazil, totalling over 150,000 ha 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 headquartered in Missouri, operates in over 40 countries in the oilseed and grain markets.
- There Will Be Blood uncovered the complex 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 in Germany by Lidl, Aldi, Netto, Edeka and others.
- Discussions on the European Commission’s proposed legislation on deforestation-free supply chains have advanced in both the European Parliament’s Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI) and the European Council, with some positive signs regarding human rights protections. While the Commission’s proposal failed to include specific references to international human rights law and standards, both ENVI and the Council have proposed to incorporate an obligation for companies to assess not only national laws, but also human rights protected under international law as part of their due diligence obligations. Further developments will take place in the parliamentary plenary session and in trilogues where Parliament, the Council and the Commission will debate 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.
Photos, video and infographics can be downloaded here.
For more information please contact: Clare Sterling at email@example.com, Mob/Signal/WhatsApp +44 7808 725096.