Yesterday marked a huge shift in the U.S. food industry – it’s now official that the world’s sixth largest food company is taking concrete action to address their controversial sourcing of palm oil from Cargill.
I attended General Mills’ annual shareholder meeting on Monday in Minneapolis, MN, and listened intently as CEO Ken Powell addressed several hundred of his company shareholders. After the usual 20 min. financial reports and marketing strategies overview, he addressed two two issues in his presentation that were of particular importance to the company: Palm Oil and Water Conservation.
CEO Ken Powell made it very clear that his company would work hard to push their palm oil suppliers (Cargill is their key palm oil supplier) to make real changes on the ground in Indonesia to prevent any further rainforest destruction, Indigenous community displacement or species extinction for palm oil expansion.
As I went inside the shareholder meeting with local community member and mother Sharon Sund to make a statement, 40 RAN activists and coalition partners rallied in front of the meeting, holding a big banner reading “General Mills Joins Race to Protect Rainforests” with matching yellow and black balloons and T-Shirts with backs that read “Can Cargill Catch Up?”
Sharon and I met Tom Forsythe, the General Mills rep we’ve been working with over the past 8 months, and he escorted us inside, introduced us to high level staff, and gave us seats at the front of the house. Sharon and I together made a 4 minute statement inside the meeting and were thanked by two huge rounds of applause from shareholders.
After the meeting CEO Ken Powell came out and shook hands with us and thanked us for our work. Sharon read him a statement from her 11 year old daughter and it was very powerful.
After jointly releasing General Mills’ palm oil policy last Wednesday with a big media splash, marking an end to our public campaign targeting General Mills, we dropped a banner on the Grain Exchange skyway outside of Cargill’s downtown office last Thursday to let Cargill know that now the pressure is really on. Cargill’s palm oil customers are demanding responsible palm oil in the U.S. – will Cargill provide it?
You can watch our statements:
These are the statements we made inside the meeting:
ASHLEY SCHAEFFER, Rainforest Agribusiness Campaigner, Rainforest Action Network:
“My name is Ashley Schaeffer and I am here today on behalf of Rainforest Action Network. As an individual responsible for RAN’s General Mills-focused palm oil campaign, I have been in communication with Tom Forsythe of General Mills since February of this year. I’m here today both to congratulate General Mills on the recent adoption of their benchmark palm oil policy and to express my enthusiasm about working together in the future on the implementation of this policy. But first I’d like to say a few words about why this policy is so important.
Palm oil is found in thousands of consumer products, from soap to cosmetics to breakfast cereal. Its use is widespread and increasing around the world, but particularly in the U.S., where its consumption has tripled in the last five years. Unfortunately, palm oil is also tightly linked to the destruction of some of the world’s most valuable remaining rainforests, primarily in Indonesia and Malaysia. Increasing consumption has triggered expanded production, replacing once biodiverse rainforests with mono-cropped palm oil plantations.
This unsustainable agriculture model is causing extreme devastation in Indonesia, both socially and environmentally. It’s one of the primary reasons that unique species like Sumatran orangutans, tigers and elephants are almost extinct, why many waterways are heavily polluted, and why thousands of Indigenous peoples are displaced from their traditional lands every year.
With such reluctance from large suppliers like Sinar Mas and Cargill to address this issue properly, it’s really up to U.S. food companies who buy palm oil for their products to take leadership on this issue to push their supplier companies to make real changes on the ground in Indonesia.
The recent leadership that General Mills has demonstrated on this issue is a testament to the company’s values. The palm policy is important for General Mills as a company, and for the impact General Mills can have in moving suppliers forward. There is a long way to go on the issue, and to completely stop the destruction fo the world’s rainforests will require companies like General Mills continuing to demand better standards from suppliers. We are very much looking forward to working with General Mills on the implementation of this policy, and applaud the goal of 100 percent certified responsible palm oil by 2015.
SHARON SUND, Rainforest Action Network Twin Cities Member and Minneapolis resident:
As a local community member and a mother, I want to thank General Mills for their new policy on palm oil. This issue is important to me because it is important to my daughter, Jade. If all of our children knew that we were feeding them breakfast cereal at the expense of rainforests, they would never forgive us.
That is why I am so glad to see that General Mills is making these changes – so we don’t have to suffer the wrath of our children for letting rainforest destruction happen.
I would also like to encourage General Mills to go as deeply into this issue and your commitment as you can, to ensure that your suppliers follow through with the policies that you have endorsed.
I have hope that in one year, we will have seen big changes on how palm oil is being produced in Indonesia, and that here in Minnesota we can feed our children while still sustaining the earth.”
In case you missed all the action last week, check out some of our best media hits below:
FAST COMPANY MAGAZINE:
General Mills Ditches Dirty Palm Oil
MINNEAPOLIS STAR TRIBUNE
Demonstrators dangle from skyway in protest against Cargill
General Mills boycotts palm oil that destroys rain forestsl
General Mills changes palm oil policy