Protesters against Cargill Inc.'s palm oil operations had good timing Thursday. As they dangled from a downtown Minneapolis skyway, a palm industry consortium had just reprimanded a Cargill palm oil supplier for its environmental practices in Indonesian rain forests.
The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, which counts Minnetonka-based Cargill as a member, said Thursday that PT Sinar Mas Agro Resources and Technology had violated the industry code on sustainable palm oil production. If Sinar Mas doesn't come into compliance with the code, it could lose its membership in the group.
The decision marks the first time the six-year-old palm oil roundtable has found a major member in serious violation of its rules, said Rolf Skar of the advocacy group Greenpeace. He said the roundtable's ruling may also put pressure on Cargill to reduce its ties to Sinar Mas.
Burger King, Nestle, Unilever and Kraft Foods have already broken ties with the Indonesian company over concerns about its treatment of rain forests.
In a statement, Cargill said the roundtable's decision shows it is upholding its commitment to certify palm oil producers for sustainable development practices. Cargill also said it's important to work with Sinar Mas and all of its suppliers toward meeting sustainability goals, which include things like not clearing certain high-value forests.
Palm oil is the most widely used vegetable oil in the world, and Cargill is one of the globe's big palm oil players. It owns two palm plantations in Indonesia and operates 12 palm oil refineries around the world, sourcing some of its supply from other palm oil producers, including Sinar Mas.
In protest of Cargill's relationship with Sinar Mas, four members of the advocacy group Rainforest Action Network climbed onto the exterior of a skyway between a parking ramp and the Grain Exchange building near City Hall. About 8 a.m., they unfurled banners and dangled about 20 feet above the ground for a little less than two hours.
The four dangling protesters and a support person atop the skyway were arrested as police and fire personnel brought down the banners, Rainforest Action Network spokeswoman Margaret Swink said.
Those arrested were hanging protesters Willow Cordes-Eklund, 26, Minneapolis; Shea Schachameyer, Milwaukee, 26; Carling Sothoron, 23, Upper Marlboro, Md.; and Laughlin Barker, 22, of Santa Fe, N.M. The fifth person arrested, Alexander Lundberg, 26, of Minneapolis, was on top of the skyway.
They are accused of several misdemeanors, among them obstruction of the legal process, obstruction of traffic and trespassing, said police Sgt. Bill Palmer.
In May, several protesters from Rainforest Action Network locked themselves to a staircase inside Cargill's headquarters, also in opposition to the company's palm oil operation. Cargill says it's a leader in sustainable palm oil development, and spokesman Pete Stoddart said Thursday the company is committed to "stopping deforestation."
In July, Cargill announced it's teaming up with the World Wildlife Fund to do an environmental sustainability assessment of its palm oil suppliers in Indonesia, including Sinar Mas.
One of the world's largest palm oil producers, environmental activists began to criticize Sinar Mas after Greenpeace in December accused it of deforestation. In August, Sinar Mas announced an independent third-party audit refuted Greenpeace's allegations. But soon thereafter, the auditor announced that Sinar Mas mispresented its findings and that, among other things, Sinar Mas had violated Indonesian forest management law.
Cargill said in a statement Thursday that Sinar Mas "has made commitments to take corrective actions following its independent audit and we have made it clear that we are looking to see timely action and progress on these."
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