Activists chain themselves to stairway inside Cargill headquarters

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WAYZATA, Minn.-- Five activists with Rainforest Action Network (RAN) chained themselves to a stairway railing inside the executive offices of Cargill, the nation's largest private agribusiness company Wednesday morning.

In a press statement, the group says those activists have locked themselves to the staircase of the Lake Office, blocking the entrance to the company's executive offices. They did so while playing a loud recording of chainsaws cutting down rainforests and holding signs reading "This is the sound of your supply chain," and "Mr. Page: Rainforest Destruction Stops with You."

Other demonstrators are conducting a solidarity vigil at the front of Cargill's Wayzata headquarters, greeting employees as they enter with a 12 ft paper mache orangutan and a sign reading: "Rainforest Destruction Starts with Cargill."

The Rainforest Action Network activists have requested a meeting with Page, Cargill's CEO, and are refusing to leave until he or another high ranking company officer agrees to stop destroying rainforests and to implement a comprehensive palm oil policy covering its entire supply chain.

"Cargill has been lying to its customers and to our community," said Eric Nielsen, local activist participating in today's protest. "We want CEO Greg Page to act now to stop Cargill's destruction of rainforests before it's too late."

Cargill VP of corporate affairs Lori Johnson denied the groups claims, saying the company has "a reputation as a leader in sustainable palm production." 

Wednesday's protest comes in the wake of a RAN report linking Cargill, the nation's largest importer of palm oil, to rainforest destruction in Borneo.  The report also allegedly documents rainforest destruction on two plantations that Cargill owns, but has hidden from the Indonesian government and its customers. RAN says over 10,500 hectares of rainforest have been destroyed since 2005, causing significant conflict with traditional and Indigenous communities.

"Cargill has destroyed an area of rainforest the size of Disney World in Borneo, endangering orangutans, polluting waterways and taking land and livelihoods from local communities," said Leila Salazar-Lopez of Rainforest Action Network. "How unsustainable can a company be?"

Cargill strongly refutes the group's claims and allegations, and released a statement Wednesday afternoon addressing them point by point.

"We want to set the record straight on the false allegations about Cargill made by Rainforest Action Network (RAN) in its May 2010 report 'Cargill's Problems with Palm Oil,' read the company response. "RAN claims Cargill has cleared rainforests and primary forests. This is categorically untrue. It is our policy to not expand or develop new plantations in areas of high conservation value forest (HCVF) and we have not cleared or developed any land that can be categorized as rainforest or primary forest. The entire area where our properties are located in Kalimantan were deforested by loggers over ten years ago, which was before we acquired the plantations."

Palm oil is one of the most commonly found ingredients in thousands of consumer products, from soap and lipstick, to breakfast cereal and soymilk. Its use is widespread and increasing around the world, but particularly in the United States, where its consumption has tripled in the last five years. As the nation's largest importer of palm oil, Cargill supplies the commonly used ingredient to some of the nation's largest food companies, including General Mills, Nestle, Mars and Kraft, making it likely that almost all Americans have bought Cargill's palm oil sometime within the last week.

KARE NBC 11
Wednesday, May 5, 2010

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