Cargill accused of breaching own deforestation and human rights commitments
Environmentalists are calling on the owners of the world’s largest food business to implement more robust measures to prevent deforestation and nature degradation across its vast global supply chains.
Representatives from Stand.earth have today (14 June) hand-delivered a new report to members of the Cargill-MacMillan family in Minnesota, cataloguing past human rights and environmental violations across its supply chains. These include instances of child labour on cocoa plantations on the Ivory Coast, plus deforestation in the Amazon rainforest in Brazil.
Cargill has stated that the claims made in the report are “grossly mischaracterised” and that the business has “unwavering commitments” to uphold human rights and end deforestation. A spokesperson for the company stated that suppliers have previously been suspended with immediate effect for breaking Cargill’s human rights policy and/or its policy on forests.
Stand.earth’s argument is that Cargill is breaching its own commitments detailed in these policies due to weak governance frameworks and poor due diligence practices.
The organisation’s report catalogues at least 50 cases of deforestation in the past two decades, including 15 linked to forest fires. Areas affected include forests in Brazil, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Bolivia, Argentina, Guatemala, Argentina, Paraguay, Ghana and the Ivory Coast. Areas affected in Brazil included lands populated by Indigenous communities.
The report also details nine high-profile human rights violation cases from the past two decades and questions the human rights commitments of some of Cargill’s suppliers.
Beyond its own commitments, Cargill has defended itself by pointing to the fact that it signed a new sector roadmap to 1.5C at COP27 in Egypt last year, along with other major players in agriculture. Stand.earth’s argument is that the requirements of the roadmap are weaker than what many businesses are already committed to.
Stand’earth’s executive director Todd Paglia said: “Industrial agriculture is the primary driver of the destruction of forests and other critical natural ecosystems, and Cargill is by far the leader in this field. With revenue roughly equal to its top three competitors combined, Cargill presents both the greatest opportunity and the greatest obstacle to eradicating the destruction of nature.”
Reputational and legal risks
Paglia added that Stand.earth is operating on the assumption that the Cargill-MacMillan family has been misled by corporate figures about the extent of the reputational damage the business is facing due to its historic impact on people and planet. The organisation is calling on the family to work with the executives and implement stronger targets and more robust governance.
Last month, environmental law firm ClientEarth filed a legal complaint about Cargill’s links to soy-driven deforestation in Brazil. It made the complaint in the US, citing the nation’s commitments to responsible business conduct internationally as a member of the OECD.
Like Stand.earth, ClientEarth has alleged deficiencies in Cargill’s approach to environmental due diligence.
A Cargill spokesperson said: “We do not source soy from farmers who clear land illegally and have controls in place to prevent non-compliant product from entering our supply chains.”
The company’s own commitment is to avoid the purchase of soybeans from areas that were deforested after 2008.
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