Commodity kings Cargill, Bunge buying soy from stolen Indigenous land, report says

Commodity kings Cargill, Bunge buying soy from stolen Indigenous land, report says

  • Commodity-trading giants Cargill and Bunge source some of the soy used in products like chicken feed and pet food to land where Indigenous communities have suffered violence and displacement, according to a new report from Earthsight, an organization investigating environmental and social injustices.
  • The companies have ties to a 9,700-hectare (24,000-acre) soy farm in the state of Mato Grosso do Sul that operates on the ancestral land of the Guarani Kaiowá, an Indigenous group that has spent the last several decades fighting forced eviction.
  • Earthsight has documented supply chain links between soy from the Brasília do Sul farm and chicken retailers like KFC, Sainsbury’s, Asda, Aldi and Iceland, as well as German supermarket chains like Rewe Markt, Netto Marken-Discount, Lidl, Aldi and Edeka.
  • Earthsight said Cargill and Bunge need to take a firmer stance on Indigenous rights rather than passing off responsibility to intermediaries or deferring to legal loopholes.

Two of the world’s largest agricultural producers are caught up in another scandal involving soy grown on illegally seized Indigenous land in Brazil.

Both Cargill and Bunge source some of their soy products, used in products like chicken feed and pet food, from land where Indigenous communities have suffered violence and displacement, according to a new report from Earthsight, an organization investigating environmental and social injustices.

“Flaws in Cargill’s stance on Indigenous rights and Bunge’s traceability of indirect suppliers expose the two multibillion-dollar US firms’ supply chains to illegalities and violent conflict, despite their stated human rights commitments,” Earthsight’s report said.

Cargill and Bunge both have ties to a 9,700-hectare (24,000-acre) soy farm in the state of Mato Grosso do Sul that operates on the ancestral land of the Guarani Kaiowá, an Indigenous group that has spent the last several decades fighting forced eviction, the report said.

The farm, called Brasília do Sul, sends soy directly to Cargill’s facility in Caarapó, about 30 kilometers (18 miles) away, according to the report. The soy also makes it to a Bunge processing unit in the nearby municipality of Dourados via indirect suppliers.

Guarani Kaiowá land used as a landfill dump. (Photo courtesy of Romerito Pontes)

Earthsight has documented supply chain links between Brasília do Sul soy and chicken retailers like KFC, Sainsbury’s, Asda, Aldi and Iceland. It’s also connected the farm to pet food sold by large German supermarkets like Rewe Markt, Netto Marken-Discount, Lidl, Aldi and Edeka.

In 2003, Kaiowá leader Marcos Veron was killed by Brasília do Sul employees and hired gunmen after trying to reclaim his people’s land, the report said. Brasília do Sul has also gone to court to prevent the Kaiowá from taking back the land through legal channels.

“It’s very unfortunate that these companies continue to do this,” Adriana Ramos, policy and law adviser at Instituto Socioambiental, a nonprofit that advocates for the rights of Indigenous and traditional peoples, told Mongabay. “They stay in this position as if they don’t have any responsibility.”

Earthsight’s report is a follow-up to a May investigation documenting the violence occurring at Brasília do Sul. Recent visits to the area helped identify which commodity traders — Bunge and Cargill — were purchasing the soy.

The two companies, together with Archer Daniels Midland and Louis Dreyfus, make up the four largest agriculture commodity traders in the world, accounting for more than half of all estimated trade in the sector. According to shipment records obtained in Earthsight’s investigation, Bunge alone exported 17 million tons of soy products from Brazil to 16 European countries between 2014 and May 2022. Cargill exported more than 13.7 million tons, the report said.

Both companies have spent decades defending themselves against accusations of environmental negligence and human rights violations, and not just in Brazil. In 2019, Cargill soy was identified as a driver of deforestation in the Gran Chaco region of Argentina, Bolivia and Paraguay.

A Bunge spokesperson told Earthsight it doesn’t have the Brasília do Sul property in its database. A Cargill spokesperson said the company was aware soy was coming from the area, but also said the farm’s activity didn’t violate the company’s policies. The Brazilian government hasn’t finished demarcating the land as Indigenous, it said, and therefore crops grown there are not subject to purchase restrictions.

“The mentioned area of Brasília do Sul farm is not regulated yet, so there’s no illegality on the local produce,” its statement said. “If we find any violation of our policies and commitments, the farmer will be immediately blocked from our supply chain.”

Memorials for five Guarani Kaiowá who have been killed during struggle for the return of their lands. (Photo courtesy of Romerito Pontes)

Violence and deforestation on Indigenous land have increased since President Jair Bolsonaro took office at the start of 2019. His government has largely prioritized agribusiness and extractive industries over the rights of Indigenous and local peoples.

The Bolsonaro government has to date not demarcated any territory belonging to Indigenous peoples, despite the Brazilian Constitution ensuring their land rights, Ramos said. The lengthy process of demarcation has given agribusiness operators a loophole for continuing irresponsible practices while creating additional barriers for communities trying to obtain protections.

Thirteen states, including Mato Grosso do Sul, have struck down the policy that Indigenous lands that are still in the process of demarcation are fair game for all, in response to injunctions that argued this violates Brazil’s Constitution. Nevertheless, land grabbing and agricultural activity have continued.

“Under Bolsonaro, everything related to Indigenous peoples’ rights became very difficult,” Mauricio Santoro, a political science professor at the Rio de Janeiro State University, told Mongabay. “The president said he would not demarcate even one more inch of land for them. He put military officers in charge of many of [the Indigenous affairs agency’s] local offices and left the institution with few resources to fulfill its mission.”

In its report, Earthsight said Cargill and Bunge need to take a firmer stance on Indigenous rights rather than passing off responsibility to intermediaries or contradicting Brazilian law. It also said the companies need to do a better job of tracing where their products come from, and whether they’re contributing to violence against vulnerable communities.

“Cargill and Bunge’s unimpressive stance on Indigenous rights or traceability means consumers in Europe and elsewhere buying chicken, pork, dairy and other products linked to soy supply chains are often made unwitting contributors to the violence and marginalization experienced by Indigenous communities,” the report said.

Banner image: Soy fields in Brazil. Photo via Wikimedia

Editor’s Note: This story has been corrected to include more up-to-date figures for soy shipments by Cargill and Bunge. 

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CORRECTION (8/22/2022): A previous version of this article stated that the Brasília do Sul farm was located in the Brazilian Amazon. The land actually lies in the transition area of Cerrado and Atlantic Forest. The post has now been corrected.

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