- Cargill has been directly purchasing soy from farms in Bolivia responsible for more than 20,000 hectares of deforestation – an area bigger than the firm’s home city of Minneapolis – since 2017, according to a new Global Witness investigation released today.
- Receipts obtained by Global Witness suggest Cargill - the largest private company in the US - is failing to collect key data about the origins of its soy supplies in Bolivia. Without this, Cargill cannot achieve its stated traceability targets or confirm purchases are deforestation-free. The research suggests the firm might in fact prefer not to trace its supply chain.
- Global Witness’s investigation also found that Cargill appears to be open to sourcing soy from remote parts of Bolivia where forest remains standing, which would put 3 million hectares - an area roughly the size of Belgium - of forest at risk.
- Cargill is enjoying record $177 billion revenues thanks to soaring food prices.
- Global banks including Barclays, BNP Paribas, HSBC and Santander have provided billions in financial services to Cargill since 2021, despite a series of reports showing Cargill’s links to forest destruction and pledges by these financial firms to eliminate or reduce deforestation from their portfolios.
September 2023, London – US food giant
Cargill has been directly purchasing soy from five farms in Bolivia responsible
for more than 20,000 hectares of deforestation – an area bigger than the city
of Minneapolis where the company is headquartered - over the past seven years,
according to a new investigation by Global Witness.
Published today, the investigation explores Cargill’s soy purchases from five regions farmed by Mennonite colonies - religious communities dedicated to traditional, communal farming - in Santa Cruz, Bolivia. These colonies are located in Bolivia’s Chiquitano forest - a biodiversity hotspot and “transition zone” between the tropical Amazon and dry Chaco forests.
Cargill says it aims to have “the most sustainable food supply chains in the world”, with CEO David MacLennan claiming in response to allegations of deforestation in Bolivia in 2017, “If there’s something there, if it’s substantiated, we’ll do something about it. If that’s accurate, it’s not acceptable''. However, this new investigation suggests that Cargill is failing to collect basic information about the origins of its soy in Bolivia, without which the company cannot check that all purchases are deforestation-free.
Global Witness estimates that, since 2017, just five colonies have deforested a combined total of 21,192 ha of land*. What’s worse, 0% of the land in three out of five of the areas Cargill sourced from was deemed suitable for intensive farming.
The new research also found that Cargill appears to be open to sourcing soy from remote parts of Bolivia where forest is still standing, putting an estimated 3 million hectares of forest at risk, according to analysis of a company map leaked to Global Witness.
The findings come amid growing awareness of the importance of the world’s tropical forests in tackling the climate and biodiversity crisis. Bolivia has one of the largest expanses of tropical forests in the world, yet they are currently being razed faster than in any other country apart from Brazil and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Fourteen of the world’s largest agribusinesses – including Cargill - launched a “roadmap to 1.5C” at COP27 last year, setting a 2025 target date for deforestation-free soy production in the Amazon – but the plan did not include Bolivia’s Chiquitano forest.
The Bolivian government reportedly blocked attempts to agree a 2030 deadline to end Amazon deforestation in Brazil last month. Domestic policies promoting large-scale agriculture have also contributed to deforestation rates in the country, local civil society say.
Veronica Oakeshott, Forests Campaign lead at Global Witness, said:
“Our findings cast severe doubt on Cargill’s claims about sustainability, traceability, its operations in Bolivia, and its commitments to achieving deforestation-free supply-chains. It seems Cargill is not even trying to identify the origins of its soy.
“Claims of “good progress” against its sustainability targets should not fool its financiers. The banks providing financial services to Cargill – like Barclays, Santander and Bank of America - must understand that in doing so, they are enabling massive deforestation.
“We need new due diligence regulations in global finance centers like the UK, US and EU to stop finance flowing to companies unwilling to stop profit-driven deforestation.”
Cargill is the largest private company in the US and reported a net revenue of $177 billion last fiscal year, mostly due to rocketing food prices after Covid-19 and the invasion of Ukraine — the most it earned annually in its 158-year history.
Global banks including BNP Paribas, HSBC, Bank of America, Barclays and Santander have underwritten bonds worth billions of dollars for the company in recent years, despite its links to deforestation.
Global Witness’s new investigation found that in 2022, Cargill issued bonds worth over US$2 billion which were underwritten by BNP Paribas, Barclays, Santander and Bank of America, among others. In 2021 a consortium including BNY Mellon, BNP Paribas, Deutsche Bank and HSBC arranged a US$6 billion revolving credit facility for Cargill, while that same year Deutsche Bank was also part of a syndicate that provided a US$1.3 billion corporate loan to the company. These deals were made despite an increasing number of financial institutions committing to reducing or ending their portfolios’ exposure to deforestation.
The new report is yet further proof that financial institutions are failing to ensure that their portfolios are deforestation-free. Only regulation in global finance centres like the UK, US and EU can end their complicity in the tragic destruction of the world’s tropical forests.
When approached by Global Witness for comment, Cargill said it is “firmly committed to ending deforestation”. It acknowledged doing business with the five Mennonite communities but claimed they comply with its Sustainable Soy policies and are monitored regularly. Cargill also suggested that the purchases analysed by Global Witness “could” have come from lands deforested before 2017, meaning the soy was potentially complaint with Cargill’s commitments and local law, except in the case of one community where they were unsure.
When approached by Global Witness, only BNP Paribas, Deutsche Bank and Santander provided comment. Santander highlighted that it “operates strict policies” that govern its financing. BNP Paribas told Global Witness it uses its own policy and other systems to “identify, assess and manage the environmental and social risks and impacts” of its clients’ activities, noting that the investigation will inform future discussions with Cargill. Deutsche Bank stated that it does not knowingly provide direct financing for projects or activities related to deforestation of primary tropical forests or that are located in sensitive areas and expected its clients to “publicly demonstrate their commitment to No Deforestation standards”.