Katie Burgess, executive director of the Trans Youth Support Network, was asked to address the 18th Annual Coming Out Day Luncheon last week. But when she learned that Cargill was a corporate sponsor of the event, she decided to address an issue that was far more important than keeping everyone comfortable.
Instead of kissing up to the corporate sponsor, Katie eloquently revealed to an astonished but well-heeled audience of 300 the ugly truth about Cargill: No charitable sponsorship will ever be able to hide the devastation that it has caused to forests and communities around the world as Cargill abuses people and planet in a rush for unethical profit.
Read Katie’s strong, eloquent speech exposing Cargill’s despicable record on everything from palm oil to child labor to weakened food safety standards.
I had a chance to speak with Katie last week in a coffee shop on Lake Street in Minneapolis and was so inspired by her wise, compassionate description of movement intersectionality: where LGBTQ communities and organizations struggling for rights, recognition, and support meet the stark realities of international solidarity. Katie recognizes that even an event promoting LGBTQ equality in the workplace can be dwarfed if the corporate sponsor’s work is actively oppressing and endangering LGBTQ and other communities. There are literally billions of people around the world that are suffering under the free trade and corporatized agricultural systems advocated for and ruled by Cargill, and it is this larger, deeper, and serious concern to which Katie drew the attention of the luncheon attendees at the Minneapolis Hilton last week.
We support Katie’s bold choice to go against the grain in solidarity with people around the world who suffer and even die because of Cargill’s profit motive. Her words to Cargill say it all:
You have left a sea of bodies in your hurried wake. Bodies who are continuously policed by this system for existing outside of gender norms, for not being white, for being disabled, for being born in foreign countries, or for desiring and expressing their own femininity.
Let me share with you some examples:
In 2005, the International Labor Rights Fund filed suit against Cargill, Nestlé and Archer Daniels Midland in federal court on behalf of children who were trafficked from Mali into the Ivory Coast and forced to work 12 to 14 hours a day with no pay, little food and sleep, and frequent physical abuse on cocoa bean plantations.
Cargill is the leading importer of palm oil into the United States. Palm oil expansion is a leading cause of forest loss in Indonesia and has a devastating impact on biodiversity, forest-dependent peoples, and the climate.
In 1970, Cargill sold 63,000 tons of seed grain to Basra, Iraq treated with methylmercury, a practice banned in most Western countries. Though intended for agricultural use, and not for human or animal consumption, some recipients used it as food, as the only printed warnings about the poison were written in English and Spanish, intended as warnings for American dock workers. This led to the deaths of 93 people.
How many of them were LGBTQ? Were their deaths and mistreatment factored into Cargill’s 100% rating in HRC’s 2010 Corporate Equality Index? Our struggles are bound together. When they came for your children in Mali, I did not speak up because I am from the United States. When they came for my workplace equality, there was no one left to speak up. Our community spans more than these strung together letters of LGBTQ. Our liberation is bound with all whom struggle against these machine works of oppression.
Following Katie’s speech, Cargill employees came up to her to ask for sources, saying they had never heard about these issues and want to talk about it at work. Go employees, talk! Complain! Demand change. Cargill executives can’t hide the truth from us all.
More and more people are seeing and hearing the truth. More and more people are rejecting the status quo. It’s up to all of us. It is my hope that Katie’s choice to address Cargill’s pinkwashing will create a much-needed dialogue in the GLTB organizational community (and within any advocacy or issue-based community) about who we choose to partner with to advocate for a better world. Organizations must be scrupulous in making sure sponsors walk their ethical talk.
Katie Burgess, thank you for boldly speaking truth to power.