Cargill leaves a palm oil mess in Papua New Guinea

Written by David Gilbert

Topics: Agribusiness

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Cargill Inc., the world’s largest agribusiness company, has announced the sale of their palm oil plantations in the remote tropical nation of Papua New Guinea (PNG). Cargill owns mills and plantations in Indonesia, Malaysia, and until today, PNG, and trades palm oil globally produced by at least 25 additional palm oil producers in Indonesia and Malaysia.

A Cargill oil palm plantation in PNG - Photo by Greenpeace

Cargill’s oil palm operations in PNG destroyed rainforests – Photo by Greenpeace PNG

Just three months ago RAN released a case study, based on original field research carried out by RAN and the International Accountability Project, on Cargill’s palm oil operations in PNG.  Commodity Colonialism reports that serious environmental and social issues threaten the sustainability of Cargill’s plantations there, with a special focus on the dangers of converting once independent and self sufficient Papuan farmers into indebted laborers through Cargill’s use of share cropping contracts.

After five years of operations in PNG, Cargill is turning their palm oil plantations over to New Britain Palm Oil, along with a range of unfilled commitments to the people and government of PNG.

It is unclear what will become of the thousands of indebted Papuans who remain bound under contract to exclusively produced oil palm for Cargill at prices set by the company, of the polluted rivers and watersheds Cargill is leaving behind, or the roads Cargill made a commitment to build and maintain in the rugged interior.

Cargill did not release any official comments but insiders point to the strong criticisms of Cargill’s unsustainable palm oil production by customers and the media as a likely reason Cargill decided to exit the country. Recent contract cancellations against the Indonesian palm oil producer Sinar Mas, Cargill’s single-largest palm oil supplier, have led to questions of Cargill’s support of, and profits from, rainforest destruction in neighboring Indonesia.

Cargill’s Oro Bay palm oil plantation – Photo by Greenpeace PNG

Back in PNG, local communities have spoken out on the damaging effects palm oil production has on the farms, forests, and rivers they have depended on for tens of thousands of years for survival. The lack of Free, Prior, and Informed Consent (FPIC) in Cargill’s sharecropping agreements, the lack of training to use dangerous pesticides, and the use of child labor are also among the most serious concerns expressed by locals living at Cargill’s three PNG plantations.

Cargill’s entrance into palm oil production in PNG gave rise to concerns that the company would use its financial and political influence to undermine the strict protections the constitution of PNG provides to community forests and farms through the recognition of communities’ customary land rights. It appears that these strict constitutional protections, which prevented Cargill from rapidly expanding it’s PNG plantations, played a significant role in Cargill’s decision to stop producing oil palm in PNG. A World Bank social impact report that noted increases of debt, prostitution, alcohol, and violence at PNG’s palm oil plantation communities,  providing additional reasons for Cargill to disassociate themselves with PNG palm oil.

New Britain Palm Oil’s Togulo palm oil operations in PNG replaced natural rainforest in 1979.  – Photo by Greenpeace PNG

New Britain Palm Oil (NBPO) is a long-time producer of palm oil in Papua New Guinea with a reputation for respecting local communities and a cautious approach to oil palm expansion, but NBPO’s plans for Cargill’s holdings are unknown. One this is for certain though, NBPO will now have to clean up Cargill’s palm oil mess in PNG.

David Gilbert is a Research Fellow at RAN. He has worked in the tropical forests of the Amazon and Indonesia, with a special focus on forest conservation and indigenous rights.

He can be reached at

12 Comments For This Post I'd Love to Hear Yours!

  1. In dialogue with Cargill last week, I was told that Cargill is “exiting PNG because we do not own other business in PNG and it became more prudent to narrow and focus our plantation business on our assets in Indonesia”.

    While we’re disappointed that Cargill did not address community and environmental concerns before selling off its plantations in PNG, we hope that New Britain Palm Oil will change course and address these concerns as soon as possible. We also hope that now that Cargill is focusing its palm oil operations in Indonesia, the company can focus on improving its social and environmental footprint in its own plantations and in its supplier plantations.

    Leila Salazar-Lopez
    Rainforest Agribusiness Campaign Director

  2. hellaD says:

    It is really sad to see these images of Papua New Guinea. I grew up in Mt Hagen and remember when all you could see was rainforest for miles. I’m not that old, this destruction of one of the most remote areas of the world in the last decade is moving so fast.

  3. cecil marton says:

    once, international roast coffee was fairly tough on it’s workers. now, international roast has at last count that I had heard were treating it’s workers with equality. I would like to know what their support for the community is rather than these ‘basics’ or just keep them so called happy.

  4. Finance says:

    Excellent blog with lots of useful information on financial

  5. Tanzi Los says:

    1. Hardly any Papua New Guineans who are offered oil palm as a way to make money has any access to information of the sort provided here.

    2. The PNG NGOs are doing a terrible job of making this information available.

  6. jabba tungalanga says:

    I have lived in kimbe bay for 8 years and have not seen one orangutan , my step-dad has lived in Papua New Guinea for 30 years he has not seen one, so before you do all of this you should get your facts right and actually go there becuase i guessing that you got all of this information off the web you lazy turd!

  7. NH Chan says:

    I was in Papua New Guinea from 2005 to 2007 and have seen the oil Palm Plantations. I believed most of the palms were grown by the Commonwealth Development Board on land farmed earlier by the people. Cargill could not have destroyed the rainforest as they bought over the plantations. Cargill had tried very hard to bring uplift the standard of living for the people. The PNG NGOs are not giving the full and true picture.

  8. Ruwan Goonewardene says:

    I do not beleive this. Cargill will never do anything which is unethical or illegal

  9. Blake says:

    I worked for Cargill and Temasek partnered company in PNG, CTP-Milne Bay Estates from August 2009 to June 2010, as a Development divisional manager from. The claim “Cargill leaves a palm oil mess in PNG” is absolutely a lie! CTP was only replanting what CDC planted in the 1970s.
    They left because the management by Temasek was unprofitable. Cargill has a strong corporate social responsibility and is committed to the people and is committed to the environment.

  10. BJ ROBIN says:

    I needs more information for supplying the labor or general labor for POP in PNG, there are many people would to do works in PO PNG, please be inform me. I am having a network outsourching domestic and international community. My. Direct Phone +6282124053123 and +6287822555787.

  11. HARI DASS M G NAIR says:

    Can i have the priviledge of working for Cargil Plantations ??

  12. john says:

    you cauld save rainforests in indoniasia by not buying palm oil.

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