Cargill Admits Buying Palm Oil from Illegally Cleared Orangutan Habitat

Written by Chelsea Matthews

Topics: Agribusiness, Forests

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Last week, Cargill admitted to doing business with a very dodgy plantation company in Central Kalimantan (Indonesian Borneo) that has illegally cleared thousands of hectares of orangutan habitat — and has even allegedly hired people to hunt down and kill orangutans.

Cargill admitted to Reuters that it bought at least one shipment of palm oil from PT Best in 2011, the holding group that owns the contested palm oil concession. It is likely Cargill also bought from them in the past and continues to do so today. In response to inquiries by Reuters’ journalist, Cargill said it will stop buying from the firm “if any illegality was proven.”

This is quite embarrassing for Cargill because the illegality is already publicly acknowledged by the Indonesian government after months of digesting a hard-hitting investigation by the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), and there is no doubt that thousands of hectares of orangutan habitat is already destroyed. EIA’s report, “Testing the Law”, documents how the 23,000 hectare (57,500 acre) concession was cleared and developed in violation of multiple Indonesian laws.

This is by no means the first time Cargill has been linked to egregious instances of deforestation and destruction of orangutan habitat. In recent months, RAN has highlighted Cargill’s supply chain connections to the destruction of the Tripa rainforest in Sumatra — one of the world’s most ecologically important rainforests and home to the critically endangered Sumatran orangutan. We have also been working to bring the urgent message about Cargill’s involvement in orangutan extinction to the company’s home town, Wayzata, Minnesota with a billboard, a robust print and online ad campaign, and thousands of publicly placed ads across the state. So far, Cargill has remained uncharacteristically silent, further suggesting it has something to hide.

This is yet another case in point that raises major red flags around Cargill’s commitment to what it calls a “100% sustainable supply chain.” Cargill says it “wants to play a leading role in working towards sustainable palm supply and use through the RSPO, and through our own actions”, going on to claim: “As such we have established a corporate sustainability commitment for our palm oil products.” Clearly, this commitment is not going far enough.

Here’s why more transparency is so clearly needed from the company: In the past, Cargill has said it has a “no-trade list” of companies it will not do business with. In 2009, Rainforest Action Network released a case study that documented illegal rainforest clearing by palm oil company Duta Palma on the lands of the Semunying Jaya community in Borneo. Social conflict continues today between the Semunying Jaya community and Duta Palma. Despite Cargill claiming that Duta Palma was on their “no-trade list,” how can consumers be sure Cargill is not sourcing from Duta Palma when, to this day, a no-trade list has yet to be made public?

As the largest importer of palm oil into the US, Cargill is using membership with the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) as its only filter to keep controversial palm oil out of its supply chain. Without its own safeguards around deforestation, human rights and species and climate impacts, the palm oil giant cannot ensure its supply chain does not include palm oil from controversial plantation holders like the ones operating in Tripa and PT Best. Without supply chain safeguards, Cargill is taking a huge risk by claiming its supply chain is devoid of controversy when environmental groups continue to link the company’s supply chain to shameful practices.

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

  1. I went to Borneo to meet the orphaned orangutans I had been helping & I was so struck by them; to me, they are so much like us but with one big difference- their innocence is intact. Orangutans have been on this earth for millions of years and in just about fifty years of finding & studying them, the human species is about to wipe them off this planet. I also beg you to not buy into the sustainable myth which is much like the myths of free-range chickens, cage free eggs & happy cows. Please watch YouTube’s The Sustainabilty Lie as it clearly shows how this sustainability is a “green wash pack of lies.” I have to do all I can to save them and the others and I beg you to please give up palm oil and help educate others & do whatever you can to make sure this catastrophe doesn’t happen. This is a global tragedy unfolding before our eyes and we must stop it!

  2. Juanna Thompson says:

    Thank you for this article – keep up the good fight!

  3. Lisa Pursel says:

    Is there an available list of products that contain Cargill’s palm oil? I would be very interested in having it if so.

  4. Carol Nash says:

    I just returned from Indonesian Borneo a week ago and will be doing a radio spot on Wednesday to talk about the dire situation with regards to orangutans and palm oil plantations. I was encouraged to do a piece on youtube but I don’t have anyone to help me put together a video. I am in San Francisco see that Chelsea Matthews is as well. So, Chelsea, if you are anyone in the SF Bay Area are out there and want to reach out to me I would love to work with you. The orangs must be saved.

  5. roryandra says:

    Palm oil plantations not only destroy orang utan habitat, but our lives too. RSPO is bullshit…I don’t beleive it.

  6. Chelsea Matthews says:

    Hi Lisa-

    We don’t have a comprehensive list of products that contain Cargill’s palm oil. Since Cargill is a private company it is difficult to know exactly all the customers they sell palm oil to. This blog has a list of some of the big name brands that use Cargill’s palm oil: (In addition to that there is Pepperidge Farm and Smucker’s). The vast majority of palm oil is sourced irresponsibly – whether or not it comes from Cargill – so I recommend not purchasing any products that contain palm oil. Just remember that palm oil can be found on the label under many names:

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