Cargill and others suspend trade with BBF in response, Global Witness calls on firms to permanently terminate purchases

20th December 2022, London – Video evidence and testimony from a Brazilian Indigenous community in the state of Para, has revealed astepping up of violent attempts by Brasil Biofuels (BBF), a local palm oil producer that sells to major international brands, to forcibly evict the community from disputed lands, in the final days of Bolsonaro’s Presidency.

In response Cargill have told Global Witness they are suspending purchases from BBF, whilst Kellogg, Hersheys and other international brands have confirmed that as they supply directly from Cargill, they too are not currently purchasing BBF palm oil. PepsiCo and Mondelez did not respond to Global Witness calls to cease trading with BBF. Whilst Global Witness welcomes this decision from Cargill and others, they are being called upon to permanently terminate trading with BBF.  

The new evidence, gathered from videos and interviews with leaders from the Turiuara and Tembé Indigenous communities in Tomé-Açu/Acará, reveals violent attacks, as recently as last week, carried out by men apparently in BBF uniforms and armed men allegedly acting on the company’s behalf, to reoccupy lands claimed by Indigenous peoples and by BBF. The violence allegedly includes:

-          Holding community members at gunpoint and forcing them to lie face down

-          Physical attacks causing bodily harm against community members, including pregnant women

-          Threats to shoot those attempting to protect the territory

-          Death threats against Indigenous leaders

Although a Para court ruled in favour of BBF’s claim to the land in September of this year, the same court issued an interim decision to prohibit the repossession at the end of November, following BBF security guards attempting to take the land without the presence of the military police, as stipulated by the judge.

The attacks come as outgoing President Jair Bolsonaro prepares to leave office on 31st December, appearing to confirm the worst fears of the Indigenous community who had long warned that between the elections result and the handover on 1st January 2023 [KD1] [GB2]  an escalation in violence was expected. Community leaders told Global Witness that the pre-election message from ‘deputies and government officials’ to local palm oil producers, if Bolsonaro loses, is clear: “execute those who are protesting and creating problems until the end of 2022.”

A representative to the Para State legislature and Bolsonaro ally, Deputado Caveira, was filmed in April telling BBF employees that whatever “is not solved through legal means, will be solved with gunpowder”.

Gabriella Bianchini, Land and Environment Defenders Campaigner at Global Witness, said:

“This horrific escalation in violence is a vicious attempt by BBF to afflict as much punishment on Indigenous people defending their land as possible, whilst they can get away with it in the dying days of Bolsonaro’s rule. It therefore could not be clearer that it is Bolsonaro’s presidency that has incubated these brutal attacks.”

“BBF may well lay a legal claim to occupy this land but there is absolutely no legal, or indeed moral, justification for the wave of terrifying violence they are inflicting on a community whose ancestors long held these lands.”

“We strongly welcome the decision of Cargill, and those purchasing palm oil via Cargill, to suspend all transactions with BBF but this needs to be a permanent position. Every company that pulls out of BBF is another blow for those pursuing a violent agenda. Likewise, we call on Brazil’s incumbent President Lula to ensure that the new government protects Indigenous communities and other land and environmental defenders in Brazil standing up for their rights.”

In September a Global Witness report first published evidence of BBF’s campaign of violence in Para, including allegations of torture, illegal detentions, death threats and more against Indigenous communities. The report showed how major international brands Cargill, Hershey, General Mills, Kellogg, Mondelez, Nestle, PepsiCo, and Unilever continued to source palm oil from BBF, despite the allegations.

Following the latest ramping up of violence, Global Witness wrote to all of those named companies, calling on them to cease trade with BBF. Cargill said that they have suspended BBF from its palm supply chain, whilst Hershey, General Mills and Kellogg said that they were linked to BBF through Cargill, as their direct supplier and so BBF is no longer in these companies’ supply chains.

Unilever has said they are investigating BBF through their grievance mechanism and by reaching out to Cargill. Nestle said they do not purchase from BBF. Mondelez and PepsiCo have not responded to Global Witness’ request for comment.

In response to the allegations, BBF told Global Witness that the incidents in question were ‘a series of simultaneous invasions of land owned by BBF’, carried out by a group of Indigenous and Quilombola individuals. The company denied their security members acted with violence and reinforced their commitment to maintain a constructive and open dialogue with the communities that live in the areas where the company operates.