Privately-hold Cargill is one of the largest food companies in Brazil, where it operates 22 processing factories, six port terminals, and 192 warehouses and transshipment points. Cargill is also one of the main soy traders in Maranhão, a booming soy state that has seen high clearing rates of native Cerrado vegetation.
Cargill’s soy policies and on-the-ground impacts have been slowly improving. In 2014, Cargill endorsed the New York Declaration on Forests. In 2016, Cargill worked with industry, government, and NGOs to extend Brazil’s Amazon Soy Moratorium indefinitely. Cargill is also implementing adherence to Brazil’s Rural Environmental Registry program (CAR) over the next few growing seasons as a direct soy sourcing requirement. In 2019, Cargill released an updated forest policy, launched an independent “Forest Protection Advisory Panel,” and announced its “South American Soy Action Plan.”
Cargill said this year that 96 percent of its Brazilian soy supply comes from land that is deforestation-free and conversion-free and that it is continuing with programs that give USD 30 million to farmers to help them stop converting land for soy production.
However, Cargill’s approach to eliminating deforestation in its soy supply chain has been inadequate. The company’s focus on only illegal deforestation leaves it open to the deforestation allowed by Brazil’s 2015 Forest Code, which allows for 65 percent of Cerrado land to be cleared legally. And the company’s goal of eliminating deforestation in its agricultural supply chains by 2030 leaves it ample time to continue sourcing from suppliers linked to deforestation in the Cerrado. Moreover, the company is vulnerable to sourcing from areas where there have been fires. During the summer of 2020, there were over 12,000 fire alerts in the vicinity of Cargill’s silos. Cargill has not endorsed expanding the Soy Moratorium to the Cerrado, and it has not endorsed the Cerrado Manifesto, which is a call from a group of companies and investors to halt deforestation in the Cerrado.
Cargill’s record on deforestation has brought about backlash from a couple of its customers.
Norwegian Grieg Seafood said it would not use proceeds from its new Green Bond, which it launched in 2020 to buy supply from Cargill Aqua Nutrition, a Cargill Inc. subsidiary. Grieg Seafood made this decision because of Cargill’s links to deforestation in the Cerrado soy market.
Prior to the move by Grieg Seafood, Cargill had already seen backlash from buyers over deforestation in the Cerrado. Nestlé stopped sourcing all of its purchases of Brazilian soy from Cargill in 2019 as the trader was not able to adequately trace soy from its suppliers.