The worst company in the world. We recognize that this is an audacious claim. But when it comes to addressing the most important problems facing our world, including the destruction of the natural environment, the pollution of our air and water, the warming of the globe, the displacement of Indigenous peoples, child labor, and global poverty, Cargill is not only consistently in last place, but is driving these problems at a scale that dwarfs their closest competitors.
That Cargill would make a grand commitment and then ignore it shouldn’t be a big surprise.
From having their membership in the Chicago Board of Trade suspended shortly after incorporating for trying to corner the market on corn and artificially drive up its price, to being responsible for the distribution of more than 150,000 pounds of contaminated beef to supermarkets just last year — Cargill has a long and sordid history of duplicity, deception and destruction. Just the past two decades provide dozens of examples.
Foreword By Congressman Henry A. Waxman:
Cargill is the United States’ largest privately held company, bigger even than the notorious Koch Industries. Its footprint extends around the world. But The Worst Company in the World? We recognize this is an audacious claim. There are, alas, many companies that could vie for this dubious honor. But this report provides extensive and compelling evidence to back it up.
The people who have been sickened or died from eating contaminated Cargill meat, the child laborers who grow the cocoa Cargill sells for the world’s chocolate, the Midwesterners who drink water polluted by Cargill, the Indigenous People displaced by vast deforestation to make way for Cargill’s animal feed, and the ordinary consumers who’ve paid more to put food on the dinner table because of Cargill’s financial malfeasance — all have felt the impact of this agribusiness giant. Their lives are worse for having come into contact with Cargill.
In my 40-year long career in Congress, I took on a range of companies that engaged in abusive practices. I have seen firsthand the harmful impact of businesses that do not bring their ethics with them to work. But Cargill stands out.
In contrast to the oil and tobacco industries, for instance, the bad practices documented here are not inherent to the products Cargill sells, and are, in fact, entirely avoidable. For example, perhaps Cargill’s largest negative impact on the natural world is its role in driving the destruction of the world’s last remaining intact forests and prairies. There are more than one billion acres of previously degraded land where crops can be grown without further imperiling native ecosystems, at no additional cost. Similarly, other companies grow animal feed at large scale without the same levels of water or climate pollution.
From palm oil in Southeast Asia to agriculture here in the United States, Cargill has sat out industry efforts to improve. To address these gaps, over the last five years, the Mighty Earth team has engaged in extensive, high-level discussions with Cargill. Our team praised the company in 2014 when CEO David MacLennan committed to end deforestation throughout the company by 2020, and later when it committed to stop sourcing cocoa from inside national parks.
In January, we shared a draft of this report with Cargill. Days before its scheduled release, Mr. MacLennan called us to request a few weeks to consider our findings and, more importantly, our recommendations for change. We agreed to give Cargill the chance. Two weeks later, he committed that Cargill would adopt policies to prevent the destruction of native habitat, and that he would personally lobby other CEOs in the industry to do the same.
Unfortunately, these last months have only confirmed the company’s inability to respond effectively, and Mr. MacLennan’s inability to deliver real change.
Within days of his commitment, Mr. MacLennan’s second-in-command publicly questioned the value of strict policies to protect native habitat. It took Cargill months to hold meaningful discussions with other companies that had already adopted strong sustainability policies, or to address relatively simple issues in their palm oil supply chain that other companies had dealt with long ago. Meanwhile, we kept receiving data, outlined in this report, of Cargill’s serious ongoing problems with deforestation and child labor.
Despite the challenges, we held off on the campaign for five months in hopes that discussions would give Cargill a chance to change. Unfortunately, David MacLennan’s commitments didn’t seem to translate into meaningful action by others in the company. We were particularly disappointed when Cargill released a “Soy Action Plan” that permits suppliers to continue deforestation, and more recently when it issued a letter to its suppliers opposing the spread of forest conservation policies to the Brazilian Cerrado. These actions were a direct refutation of Mr. MacLennan’s commitments. We’ve successfully worked to improve the environmental and human rights practices of dozens of companies, but have never encountered a company that has such difficulty translating high-level commitments into action.
While Mr. MacLennan seems to want to do the right thing, he appears unable to decide between those who believe Cargill can do better and those who want to keep the bulldozers running. Unfortunately, because the status quo is deforestation, child labor, and pollution, Cargill’s dithering results in a continuing environmental and human rights disaster. And because Cargill’s reach is so broad, they drag other companies into aiding and abetting their environmental destruction and human rights abuses too.
Supermarket giant Ahold Delhaize (owner of Giant, Stop & Shop, Hannaford, Food Lion, and other brands) may say it wants to provide responsible meat, but it cannot do so as long as it is in a joint venture with Cargill to supply their store branded meats. The “Science Based Climate Target” trumpeted by McDonald’s lacks meaning as long as Cargill, the manufacturer of their Chicken Nuggets and Big Macs, drives climate pollution on a massive scale.
These companies — and more than a hundred others — have repeatedly called on Cargill to change. But Cargill has just as repeatedly defied these calls. If these businesses want to fulfill their environmental and human rights policies, they must go beyond polite encouragement to shifting their purchases to more responsible companies.
Only by holding Cargill and its customers publicly accountable can we force them to change. Concerted action by citizens and consumer companies has driven enormous progress in many parts of the food and agriculture industry. Now it is time for the company that purports to be a leader in that industry to finally act like it.
Henry Waxman - Former Member of Congress; Chairman, Mighty Earth - 11. July 2019
A Pattern of Deception and Destruction
CONTINUE READING THE FULL STUDY AND BACKGROUND INFORMATION
2018 brought a drumbeat of troubling news, with the United Nations and the US Government reporting foreboding warnings for the earth’s climate and its inhabitants.
First, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said that we need “rapid and far-reaching transitions in energy, land, urban and infrastructure (including transport and buildings), and industrial systems” to avoid catastrophic impacts from global warming. A few weeks later, the U.S. government’s Fourth National Climate Assessment in November of 2018 said that, “without substantial and sustained global mitigation and regional adaptation efforts, climate change is expected to cause growing losses to American infrastructure and property and impede the rate of economic growth over this century.”
We still have a choice about the future we want, but we may be the last generation that does. A better world is possible, but only with immediate and substantive action.
While both the reports and the media focus primarily on the role of government, for the most part it is not governments that do the polluting or deforesting — it is large industrial and multinational companies like Cargill.
Whether or not governments do their job doesn’t mean the job can’t be done. Some of the world’s greatest environmental successes have been achieved by companies, acting either from their own sense of responsibility, or spurred by customers, investors, and society more broadly. Cargill itself and other soy traders have demonstrated this by protecting part of the Amazon because their customers demanded that they to do so.
But Cargill refuses to expand these protections to other landscapes, even going as far as to publicly announce its opposition to a moratorium on the destruction of Brazil’s priceless and threatened Cerrado, supported by more than seventy consumer goods companies. This is a slap in the face to Ahold Delhaize, McDonald’s, and others that have repeatedly called on Cargill to build on the extraordinary success of the Amazon Soy Moratorium. If these companies are serious about their own sustainability commitments, they’ve got to go beyond polite calls and shift their purchases to more responsible suppliers.