Cargill Announces Intent to Strengthen its Palm Oil Policy

Following years of campaigning by Rainforest Action Network and others, ag giant signals cautious intent to take more responsibility for the impact of its palm oil business, but new policy with action plan still missing.

San Francisco, CA – Responding to mounting pressure from large corporate customers, global consumers and environmental and social justice organizations, Cargill has sent a letter to the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) indicating it will commit to a new and improved responsible palm oil policy to address the issues of deforestation, human rights violations and carbon pollution documented within its palm oil supply chains.

Cargill is a major supplier of palm oil to global markets and is the largest importer of palm oil into the United States. Palm oil is used in roughly half the packaged goods sold in grocery stores and Cargill-sourced palm oil can be found in the homes of most American shoppers.

With 2013 revenues of $136.7 billion and profits of $2.31 billion, Cargill is among the largest and most powerful private corporations in the world. Cargill’s business lines touch all aspects of palm oil production, trade, refining and marketing as it moves palm oil from producers to end consumers. This position gives Cargill significant leverage in every link of the complex supply chain required to build traceable and responsible palm oil sourcing from growers to markets.

Rainforest Action Network (RAN) began campaigning to convince Cargill to adopt a responsible palm oil policy in 2007. Since that time, RAN has employed a wide array of tactics to get Cargill’s attention, from delivering tens of thousands of petitions to Cargill’s headquarters, to ad campaigns saturating Cargill’s hometown of Wayzata, MN, to creative acts of nonviolent civil disobedience at multiple Cargill facilities.

Nearly a decade after being made aware of serious problems in its palm oil supply chains, this open letter is the first indication that Cargill is willing to adopt responsible palm standards for its traded oil, which comprises the vast majority of the oil it sells. Adopting stricter requirements on the palm oil it trades is crucial as 97% of its traded oils is sourced from plantations operated by other companies, some of which have been documented destroying rainforests and peatlands and violating the rights of Indigenous Peoples, local communities and workers.

In response to Cargill’s letter of intent to develop a policy, Ginger Cassady, Forest Program Director with Rainforest Action Network (RAN) issued the following statement.

“Rainforest Action Network welcomes this indication that Cargill is finally acknowledging it has a problem with Conflict Palm Oil. This newfound openness by Cargill offers an important opportunity to address the serious issues of deforestation, peatland destruction, land grabbing and child labor in its supply chain.

“Global palm oil markets are changing rapidly and while a new benchmark for responsible palm oil production and trade has clearly been established, Cargill is falling behind its peers and risks losing major customers and its prominent stake in this sector.

“Wilmar International, one of Cargill’s chief competitors and the world’s largest palm oil trader, faces bigger logistical challenges than Cargill to achieve responsible palm oil supply chains, yet Wilmar has recently put in place an ambitious, binding and global “No Deforestation No Exploitation No Peatlands Policy.” Meanwhile, Cargill has dragged its feet and to this day still lacks a binding, time-bound responsible palm oil policy.

“Many of Cargill’s major palm oil customers, including Nestle, Unilever, General Mills, Mondelez, Kellogg, Safeway, Hormel, Hershey, Mars – and most recently Proctor & Gamble – have responded to campaign pressure by RAN, Greenpeace and allies by committing to strengthen their palm oil policies. Some, like Mars, have gone as far as to set an imminent deadline to drop suppliers like Cargill unless they agree to rise to the new standards.

“Just last week, RAN issued a report that documents rainforest destruction, land grabbing and child labor throughout the global operations of a major Cargill palm oil supplier – and member of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) – Kuala Lumpur Kepong Berhad (KLK). It could not be more clear that Cargill cannot rely on the insufficient standards and complaints mechanisms of the RSPO to prevent deforestation or resolve community conflicts and human rights violations stemming from Conflict Palm Oil production in its supply chain.

“RAN stands ready to work with Cargill to design and implement a time-bound policy that verifiably eliminates deforestation, peatlands destruction, land grabbing and human and labor rights violations from its global operations.”