New Global Witness report reveals major international household names including Cargill, Hershey’s, Kellogg, Nestle and PepsiCo are sourcing palm oil linked to torture.

26th September 2022, London - Major international companies Ferrero, Hershey’s, Kellogg, Mondelez, Nestlé, PepsiCo, Unilever, ADM, Bunge, Cargill, Danone and others – continue to purchase palm oil from Brasil Biofuels (BBF) and Agropalma despite the situation in Pará contributing to the violations of Indigenous and traditional peoples’ rights.

The report highlights that immediate action is needed from international companies sourcing palm oil from BBF and Agropalma, as well as from policy makers in the EU to stop severe human rights and land rights abuses against Indigenous communities in the Amazon.

Global Witness has found that violence, illegal land grabbing and the forced eviction of Indigenous Quilombola, Riverine and Campesino communities in the Amazon has escalated to life threatening severity under the presidency of Jair Bolsonaro. Brasil Biofuels (BBF) and Agropalma are embroiled in long-standing conflict with local communities. BBF are accused of waging violent campaigns to silence Indigenous and traditional communities defending their ancestral lands with little or no accountability or State intervention, while Agropalma are linked to fraudulent land grabs and stranding or evicting communities. Both companies deny the allegations. 

Favouring business growth to the detriment of defenders, harmful policies and rhetoric from Bolsonaro and his government to ‘execute’ and ‘get rid of’ those protesting and protecting their lands has worsened the daily violence faced by communities living in conflict with BBF. As Brazilians head to the polls, the threats faced by communities are expected to escalate.

Findings: Evidence of BBF’s violent conflict

As the largest producer of palm oil in Latin America, 80% of BBF’s plantations are in Pará, Brazil. BBF has been in a lengthy dispute over ownership of the plantation land with the Tembé, Turiuara and Pitauã Indigenous peoples and the Amarqualta and Nova Betel Quilombola peoples.

Indigenous peoples living in the area have shared shocking accounts of a sustained campaign of intimidation, torture and physical abuse from armed security guards and militia allegedly hired by BBF. Community members have also had hundreds of criminal charges brought against them, in what they call –an attempt by BBF to “criminalise” and silence them. Community member Paratê Tembé told Global Witness - “BBF employees tell me that they are going to kill me, that they are going to kill my family.” In April 2022, armed BBF guards also threatened to burn Paratê’s sister alive.

The list of alleged abuses does not stop at death threats. Armed men hired by BBF have allegedly tortured and detained members of a Quilombola community by spilling burning plastic over their backs and shot and injured at least one Indigenous community member. The violations reported to Global Witness have led some community members to no longer believe in co-existence with the palm companies: “We want them far from us,” exclaims Edvaldo Turiuara. “They torture and kill us, and, in the end, we are the ones who are criminalised by society.” In a detailed response to allegations, BBF acknowledges the existence of an ongoing conflict in the region, which it claims it is trying to solve. The company contends it is rather the victim of criminal actions against its employees, which BBF has reported to the police, and denies causing physical harm to community members or otherwise unlawfully.

Findings: Evidence of Agropalma’s fraudulent land grabs and stranded communities

Part of Brazilian banking conglomerate Alfa Group, Agropalma controls land the size of 150,000 football pitches in the region of Tailândia which allegedly overlaps lands claimed by the Quilombola communities of ARQVA.

Communities say Agropalma have illegal titles of lands where thousands of Indigenous and Quilombola peoples once lived and were forcibly removed from. Agropalma has been allowed to remain occupying these areas despite Brazil’s court recently finding Agropalma has acquired them through false property titles.

Residents have reported that Agropalma forbids them from planting, hunting and fishing, leaving them without means to survive. Agropalma has dug massive trenches to forcibly restrict the movements of the communities. Community members need to present identity cards to cross into the plantations to go outside, and the communities’ sacred, historical Nossa Senhora da Batalha cemetery is also out-of-bounds. Trapped on land they’re unable to use and prevented from leaving, to even grieve, community member Serrao said: “I feel like an enslaved person, as my ancestors once were.”

Agropalma has stated that its corporate policies forbid actions inhibiting legal and regular activities of Human Rights Defenders, while maintaining Agropalma’s right to protect its employees and its assets. The company denied using violent actions against communities and individuals, arguing that there are no land claims by Indigenous people overlapping with Agropalma lands.

Gabriella Bianchini, Campaigner at Global Witness said: With the violence likely to escalate under Bolsonaro, the elections could prove to be life or death for the communities affected. Meanwhile BBF and Agropalma continue to profit and trade with some of the biggest household names.

Consumers drinking Pepsi, eating Kellogg cereals or enjoying chocolate from Mondelez, Hershey’s, Ferrero and Nestlé may unknowingly be consuming palm oil produced in Para at the violent cost of these communities’ livelihoods.

The fact that all the multinational companies we spoke to are aware of the conflicts in their Brazilian palm oil supply chains and continue to purchase from BBF and Agropalma, shows a disturbing level of indifference and a failure to prevent human rights abuses in this region of Pará.

The European Union urgently needs to adopt a strengthened Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence Directive to ensure that human rights abuses like those taking place in BBF and Agropalma’s operations are prevented.”

Global Witness is calling on international companies that purchase palm oil from Agropalma and BBF to urgently prevent any further harms to members of any community within or surrounding their palm oil plantations. As customers, these companies have the power to put pressure on BBF and Agropalma and even terminate contracts if they continue to fail to meet international business and human rights standards.