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.