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Criticisms of Cargill


Criticisms of Cargill

This article addresses various criticisms of Cargill, a large, privately held, multinational corporation, based in the state of Minnesota in the United States.


  • Environmental damage 1
    • Palm oil production in Indonesia and Papua New Guinea 1.1
    • Controversy around Santarém port and Amazon deforestation 1.2
    • Broken wastewater pipeline in Australia 1.3
    • Building on restorable wetlands 1.4
    • Release of 65 million gallons of acidic water into Tampa Bay 1.5
  • Human rights abuses 2
    • Forced child labor (Côte d'Ivoire) 2.1
    • Uzbek cotton 2.2
  • Contamination 3
    • Mercury poisoning in Iraq 3.1
    • 2007 beef recall (USA) 3.2
    • Cargill Australia exports 3.3
  • References 4
  • External Resources 5

Environmental damage

Palm oil production in Indonesia and Papua New Guinea

Oil palms (Elaeis guineensis).

Palm oil is a globally traded commodity used in a wide range of consumer products, including packaged foods, cosmetics, and cleaning supplies, and as a feedstock for biofuels. Produced in the world's tropics on industrial monoculture plantations, oil palm has severe and widespread negative impacts on the environment and local people.

Oil palm plantations are driving the destruction of tropical rainforests around the globe. Indonesia — which has the world's highest rate of deforestation, with, on average, 20 square miles (52 km2) of rainforest destroyed everyday[1] — is ground zero for oil palm expansion, and produces more than 45 percent of the world's palm oil.[2]

Cargill, through their oil palm arm CTP Holdings, owns 5 oil palm plantations in Indonesia and Papua New Guinea (PNG), and is the largest exporter of palm oil to the USA. Cargill is also the largest US importer of palm oil, sourcing the oil from at least 26 producers and buying roughly 11% of Indonesia's total oil palm output.[3]

Cargill's oil palm operations violate environmental law and human rights, including:
• All 83,000 hectares of Cargill's five directly owned oil palm plantations have been carved out of lowland rainforests, causing massive deforestation. As of 2009, Cargill is actively clearing forest in Borneo at their PT Harapan Sawit Lestari plantation without an environmental impact assessment, which is required by Indonesian law.[4]

• Cargill purchases palm oil from many more ‘worst-of-the-worst" rainforest destroyers - including Wilmar, Sinar Mas, and Duta Palma - all of whom violate Indonesian law by burning rainforests.[5]

• Local communities have lost their ancestral forests and farmland to Cargill's oil palm plantations. These communities were not properly compensated for their lands, nor did they give their free, prior, and informed consent for the conversion of their lands to industrial monoculture.[6] Hundreds of cases of social conflict have been documented at Cargill's oil palm plantations by NGOs, government, and Indonesia's National Human Rights Court.[7]

• At Cargill's three oil palm plantations in PNG, formally independent farmers are being converted into de facto bonded laborers through Cargill's use of complex debt schemes and unfulfilled promises of new roads, schools, and hospitals. Covering rugged and isolated terrain, Cargill's own management has acknowledged their inability to prevent the use of child labor on their PNG plantations.[8]

In destroying forests and harming forest peoples, Cargill regularly violates its own corporate social responsibility policies and industry commitments to produce palm oil sustainably.

Controversy around Santarém port and Amazon deforestation

Long shot of a city located on water with a building saying
Cargill in Santarém, Brazil.

In 2003, Cargill completed a port for processing soya in Santarém in the Amazon region of Brazil. The port dramatically increased soya production in the area due to the proximity of easy transport and processing facilities. Although Cargill complied with state legislation, they failed to comply with a federal law requiring an Environmental Impact Statement. In late 2003 Greenpeace launched a campaign claiming the new port sped up deforestation of local rain forest as farmers have cleared land to make way for crops.[1]

In February 2006, the federal courts in Brazil gave Cargill six months to complete an environmental assessment (EA), different from an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). This ruling came as part of a broader popular backlash against the port; while it was initially supported by locals who hoped for jobs, opinion has turned against it as the jobs have not appeared. In July 2006, federal prosecutor Felicia Pontes Jr. suggested they were close to shutting down the port.[2]

Cargill responded to criticisms of the port by focusing on the need for economic development for the local province, one of the poorest in Brazil. They claimed that "extreme measures" such as closing the port are not necessary because "Soy occupies less than 0.6 percent of the land in the Amazon biome today." They also pointed to their partnership with The Nature Conservancy to encourage farmers around Santarém to comply with Brazilian law that requires 80% of forest to be left intact in forest areas.[3]

In April 2006, Greenpeace released another report criticising Cargill's report for its alleged role in deforestation of the Amazon. The Greenpeace Report allegedly showed that the Cargill company, in Brazil, was the dominant company that exposed deforestation to the indigenous tribes, which led them to have their land taken away. This report also stated that Cargill had slave labourers working at these soya farms 16 hours a day, seven days a week.[9]

The report states that according to Amazon scenarios Modelling Project, if already existing laws were followed and executed, and the proposed protected area left alone, then about one million square kilometers of the Amazon would avoid deforestation. Also, because deforestation contributes so greatly to the tons of carbon emissions to the atmosphere and the degradation of major watersheds in the area, the soya farms cutting down their production in the Amazon would benefit not only the forest and the indigenous tribes, but every other citizen of the area as well as the soy plant workers.[10]

The report traced animal feed made from Amazonian soya to European food retailers who bought chicken and other meat raised on the feed. Greenpeace took its campaign to these major food retailers and quickly won agreement from McDonald's along with UK-retailers Asda, Waitrose and Marks & Spencer to stop buying meat raised on Amazonian soya. These retailers in turn put pressure on Cargill and Archer Daniels Midland, Bunge, André Maggi Group and Dreyfus to prove their soya was not grown on recently deforested land in the Amazon.

In July 2006, the Star Tribune newspaper of Minneapolis reported that Cargill had joined other soy businesses in Brazil in enacting a two-year moratorium on the purchase of soybeans from newly deforested land [4].

Broken wastewater pipeline in Australia

June 2007 the Australian operation of Cargill was fined A$37,500 by the New South Wales Land and Environment Court after a waste water pipeline ruptured in January 2006 which flowed into a stormwater system and into the Bomen wetland.[11]

Building on restorable wetlands

Cargill has triggered significant controversy with its plan to build a major new housing development of as many as 32,000 people on its privately owned salt ponds in Redwood City.

The property was originally marshland along San Francisco Bay, and became one of the first commercial salt-making locations on the Peninsula in 1901 when portions were drained and diked off from the Bay. Immediately after World War II, the former Leslie Salt Company modernized and expanded the plant site and harvested up to 300,000 tons of salt which it shipped to industries throughout the Pacific Rim. Leslie was purchased by Cargill in 1978[12]).[13]

In 2000, Cargill offered the property to the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the California Department of Fish and Game, but the resource agencies were unable to afford the site, although 16,500 acres were acquired from Cargill in 2003 through a combination donation/sale. The state courts later ruled that the property had been overvalued by the appraiser's unfounded assumption of its value for development or mitigation.

Subsequently, Cargill partnered with luxury-home builder DMB Associates of Scottsdale, Arizona, which has submitted a "50/50 Plan" to build 12,000 houses, 1 Million Sq. Ft of commercial space, and community facilities on about half of the 1,436 acres (2.2 sq mi) site, and convert the rest to wetlands, parks, lagoons, and open space on the Bayfront in Redwood City.[14]

The San Francisco Chronicle, San Jose Mercury News and over 150 elected officials from around the Bay Area have called the San Francisco Bay salt ponds an unacceptable site for housing, and have come out against the project.[15][16]

Local environmentalist group, Save The Bay, has actively criticized Cargill for trying to destroy bay wetlands.[17] However, that campaign is false advertisement as Cargill's 50/50 plan does not call for any wetland destruction or filling of the bay, only building on their property filled with only salt ponds and salt harvesting facilities.[18]

Residents' initial efforts to preserve the salt ponds as open space were defeated by 63% of Redwood City voters in a 2008 local referendum that sought to make development difficult by amending the city charter.[19]

Since that time, a growing coalition of over 30 environmental, business and community groups, led by Save The Bay has continued to fight the proposed development.[20] They assert that the salt ponds should be restored as part of the neighboring Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge and not used for housing.,[21][22] similar to the 16,500 acres Cargill sold in 2003, which now comprise the largest tidal wetland restoration project on the West Coast.[23][24]

Release of 65 million gallons of acidic water into Tampa Bay

In 2012, Mosaic Co., started the initial cleanup and restoration of the mangroves and wetlands that were severely harmed by the spill.,[25] spilling 65 million gallons of acidic waste water into Tampa Bay.[25]

It was one of the worst environmental disasters to strike Tampa Bay in a long time, a "10 on a scale of 10," one spokesman for the old Cargill Phosphate company called it.[25]

Human rights abuses

Forced child labor (Côte d'Ivoire)

In July 2005, the International Labor Rights Fund filed suit against Cargill, Nestlé and Archer Daniels Midland in Federal District Court in Los Angeles on behalf of a class of Malian children who were trafficked from Mali into Côte d'Ivoire and forced to work twelve to fourteen hours a day with no pay, little food and sleep, and frequent beatings. The three children acting as class representative plaintiffs are proceeding anonymously, as John Does, because of feared retaliation by the farm owners where they worked. The complaint alleges their involvement in the trafficking, torture, and forced labor of children who cultivate and harvest cocoa beans which the companies import from Africa.[26]

Uzbek cotton

Cargill operates in Uzbekistan despite admissions made by two of its representatives on separate occasions that the company is concerned about the possible use of child labor in the production of its crops. Their concerns have been public since 2005; however, Cargill has not yet taken action to investigate or correct any possible labor violations existent in their Uzbek operations.[27]

The Environmental Justice Foundation named Cargill as a major buyer of Uzbek cotton, which is produced widely using uncompensated workers and is implicated in human rights abuses.[28] Cargill claims to have no knowledge of misconduct in either case.


Mercury poisoning in Iraq

In 1970, Cargill sold 63, 000 tons of seed grain to Basra, Iraq. Although banned in many Western countries - Cargill agreed to treat the seed grain with Methylmercury. The shipment was sprayed red to mark its danger and indicate that it was not intended for human or animal consumption but only for use in agriculture. Once it arrived in Iraq in early October however, the surplus seed was given away by the government, and a number of recipients used it as food, since the only printed warnings about the poison were written in English and Spanish, as warnings to American dock workers. This led to the deaths of 93 people.[29]

2007 beef recall (USA)

In October 2007 Cargill announced the recall of nearly 850 000 frozen beef patties produced at its packing plant in Butler, Wisconsin. The patties, processed between the August 9, 2007, and August 17, 2007, were suspected of being contaminated with E. coli.[30] The beef was sold mainly at Walmart and Sam's Club stores.

Cargill Australia exports

In March 2009, Cargill Australia (Wagga) had its export licence, to export meat to Japan and the United States, placed on temporary suspension by the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service (AQIS) after E. coli was detected in Cargill's export containers from its Wagga Wagga plant. In late April 2009, AQIS lifted Cargill Australia's suspension on its export licence.[31]


  1. ^ Ball, L. et al. State of the world's forests 2007. FAO. 2007.
  2. ^ Jakarta Post. CPO price to rise, production to slow. May 24, 2008.
  3. ^ Jan Willem van Gelder, Greasy Palms: European Buyers of Indonesian Palm Oil, Friends of the Earth, 2004.
  4. ^ [5] Personal comment made to David Gilbert by Cargill's Procedure Assurement Officer at PT Harapan Sawit Lestari, Indonesia. July, 2009.
  5. ^ Arie Rukmantara, "Government to sue firms over forest fires," Jakarta Post, Sept 2, 2006.
  6. ^ Leslie Potter. Dayak resistance to oil palm plantations in West Kalimantan, Indonesia. Paper presented to the 17th Biennial Conference of the Asian Studies Association of Australia in Melbourne 1–3 July 2008.
  7. ^ Erik Wakker. The Kalimantan Border Oil Palm Mega-Project. AIDEnvironement. April, 2006.
  8. ^ RSPO PNG National Interpretation Working Group. Pt. Moresby. November 7, 2007.
  9. ^ Greenpeace. 2006. We're trashin' it: how McDonald's is eating up the Amazon. Amsterdam: Greenpeace.
  10. ^ [6]
  11. ^ "Meat processor fined after polluting wetland". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 2008-03-24. 
  12. ^ Corporate Profile for Cargill Salt, dated Aug. 21, 1998, Business Wire, August 21, 1998, and has continued salt-making, although under more difficult business conditions, with the opening of a large competing salt works in Baja, which is owned by Mitsubishi and the Mexican government. Accessed online at FindArticle 26 October 2008.
  13. ^ Allison Louie, Cargill Salt plans to shut down Redwood City plant, Oakland Tribune, June 22, 2006. Accessed online 19 June 2009.
  14. ^ Cargill/DMB-Saltworks, Development application to Redwood City, filed May 2009. Accessed online 19 June 2009.
  15. ^ Editorial, Turning the tide on bay salt flats, San Francisco Chronicle, Nov. 11, 2007. Accessed online 19 June 2009.
  16. ^ "Editorial: Redwood City salt ponds not the right place for massive development - San Jose Mercury News". Retrieved 2012-09-04. 
  17. ^ { Save The Bay's anti-Cargill page] Accessed online 21 May 2012.
  18. ^ Cargill's 50/50 plan clarified Accessed online 21 May 2012.
  19. ^ "Redwood City Measure W Fails, V Too Close To Call". Retrieved 2012-09-04. 
  20. ^ Paul Rogers, 'Smart growth' or environmental mistake on Redwood City's bay waterfront?, San Jose Mercury News, Accessed online 19 June 2009.
  21. ^ Cargill: Don't Fill San Francisco Bay, Save The Bay webpage devoted to the issue. Accessed online 4 November 2010.
  22. ^ See also Save The Bay's Flickr Photoset.
  23. ^ "South Bay Restoration-Home". Retrieved 2012-09-04. 
  24. ^ [7]
  25. ^ a b c Mike Salinero (2004-09-05). "Mosaic Co. environmental project to reviveIn September 2004, hurricane Francis produced winds that churned up waves of water atop a phosphate gypsum stack in Riverview, Florida. The force of the waves opened a gap in the dike surrounding the retention pond ecological disaster area". Retrieved 2012-09-04. 
  26. ^ ADM, Nestle & Cargill Sued for Sourcing Cocoa Beans for Chocolate from Slave Labor Plantations in Africa
  27. ^ Ethical Corporation: Europe - Uzbekistan cotton – A thread of hope in the retail fabric
  28. ^ "The Curse of Cotton: Central Asia's Destructive Monoculture", International Crisis Group, February 28, 2005, pages 39. see also pages 2.
  29. ^ Broehl, Wayne G., Jr. (1998) Cargill: Going Global. University Press of New. England, Hanover, New Hampshire. Pages 167-171,
  30. ^ Wisconsin Firm Recalls Ground Beef Products Due to Possible E. coli O157:H7 Contamination
  31. ^ "Cargill exports beef - tracking system at abattoir". Meat International. 2009-04-28. Retrieved 2009-04-29. 

External Resources

  • Cargill's Legacy of Destruction palm oil video
  • Cargill's Legacy of Destruction: A case study of a Cargill owned palm oil plantation in Indonesia
  • Commodity Colonialism: A case study of Cargill's oil palm operations in Papua New Guinea
  • Virtual Tour of the Saltworks Proposed Development in Redwood City, CA
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