Cargill looks to address land use changes in South America

By Jane Byrne

- Last updated on GMT

© GettyImages/Lucas Ninno
© GettyImages/Lucas Ninno

Related tags Soy deforestation Brazil

US-based agribusiness giant, Cargill, has just announced new policies on soy, human rights, and forests.

It launched a South America Sustainable Soy Policy​, a Human Rights Commitment​ and an updated Forest Policy​.

Cargill operates a network of soy crush plants, in-country collection facilities and port facilities in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, Venezuela and Chile, and trades South American soybeans and soy derivative products globally.

With the publication of the three policies, Cargill said it has outlined a complete approach to fully sustainable supply chains across soy, cocoa and palm. The policies are designed to:

  • Achieve deforestation-free supply chains that also protect native vegetation beyond forests.
  • Promote responsible production, which benefits farmers and surrounding communities. To date, the company has trained more than 250,000 farmers in good agricultural practices across the three supply chains, including training conducted in partnership with The Nature Conservancy in the soy supply chain.
  • Respect and uphold the rights of workers, indigenous peoples and communities.
  • Uphold transparency standards through reporting of key metrics and progress, tied to time-bound action plans.
  • Address external stakeholder grievances in a timely manner, and where incidents are identified, take necessary, corrective action, including but not limited to disciplinary or commercial action.
  • Bring an outside perspective to the company’s sustainability efforts through an External Advisory Board.

Cargill has also established a corporate sustainability hub to ensure the efforts are operationalized across the organization. The trader said the hub shares learnings and best practices across the company’s supply chains and with the broader industry to drive sector-wide transformation.

The company plans to issue an action plan by June 15.

Campaigners held ‘constructive discussions’ with Cargill

Environmental campaign organization, Mighty Earth, said these changes came about following three weeks of engagement between it and the Cargill executive.

That NGO said leaders at Cargill were clearly affected by the findings of Mighty Earth’s investigations and that it was pleased that these talks has led to some progress, but it added that Cargill has still not addressed the full scope of its impact as a business.

Mighty Earth CEO, Glenn Hurowitz, said:

“Cargill is moving in the right direction by extending their promise to end deforestation by 2020 to also protect other critical ecosystems like South America’s Cerrado, Gran Chaco, and Llanos. This announcement has the potential to be the starting point that leads to a major breakthrough for more sustainable meat, cocoa, and palm oil.

“Over the last three weeks, I’ve been happy to hold constructive discussions about these issues several times with Cargill CEO, David MacLennan; his personal focus gives us hope that Cargill has the potential to turn a corner to address deforestation across its soy, cocoa, and palm oil supply chains.”

‘Lagging’ behind competitors

He said that Mighty Earth’s field investigations have shown that despite multiple commitments to protect forests over the last decade, Cargill often lags behind their competitors in the implementation of those commitments.

In 2014, Cargill joined other companies in a CEO-level commitment to end deforestation across its major supply chains by 2020. “Since then, we and others have published many investigations documenting extensive deforestation in its soy supply chain in Bolivia, Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay.” 

“To win the trust of customers, communities, and the public, Cargill needs to show right away that it will enforce this policy by ensuring that any supplier that engages in destruction of native ecosystems is not part of their supply chain. It also needs to spread its own decade-long success in working with other companies to eliminate deforestation for soy in the Brazilian Amazon to the other soy-growing ecosystems. This is the world’s most successful private sector environmental initiative, and there’s no reason to confine it to just the Brazilian Amazon while massive deforestation continues in other areas.  

“We are hopeful that we will be able to soon praise Cargill not just for promises, but for action. We will be watching closely.”

Adrian Bebb, senior food and biodiversity campaigner, Friends of the Earth Europe, was less than impressed by Cargill’s pledges. He told us:

"Cargill’s acknowledgement that its expansion of soy monocultures is having a negative impact on forests, workers and indigenous people, while welcome, must be taken with a pinch of salt. Its business model depends on expanding industrial agriculture, so we remain skeptical that its plans will halt the destruction of forests or the collapse in nature.”

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