Environmental group gives Cargill award for 'worst company in the world'

A report from Mighty Earth alleges Cargill's involvement in multiple health, environmental, and human rights violations.

A report from Mighty Earth alleges Cargill's involvement in multiple health, environmental, and human rights violations. Glen Stubbe, Star Tribune

On Thursday afternoon, several activists with Mighty Earth, an environmental nonprofit, will gather in Hopkins. That’s where they'll honor Cargill—the largest privately owned company in the U.S., based here in Minnesota—with an award for being the “worst company in the world.”

“We recognize this is an audacious claim,” a report released by Mighty Earth says. “There are, alas, many companies that could vie for this dubious honor.”

But the report insists there’s plenty of evidence to back it up. It includes a timeline of ills reportedly linked back to Cargill, from a 2000 deli turkey listeria outbreak suspected to have caused four deaths and three miscarriages, to a 2018 E. coli outbreak that possibly landed contaminated ground beef in every Safeway “nationwide.”

The list offers more than food safety complaints. It includes massive fish kills caused by “illegally dumping hog manure” (2002). Possible union busting during a salt miner strike (2003). Accusations that it avoided paying some $252 million in taxes to the Argentinian government (2011). And allegedly making illegal land grabs in Colombia (2013).

These allegations have all been widely covered by news outlets, but there are further accusations that Cargill is buying products produced with the help of child labor and slavery. Last year, the United States ninth circuit appeals court approved a lawsuit filed by six former cocoa farmers against Cargill and Nestle.

They say they were kidnapped from Mali as children in the ’90s and forced to work for up to 14 hours a day, six days a week, on cocoa plantations that Cargill and other companies had been supporting with funds and supplies. Cargill has refuted the claims, calling them “unsubstantiated.”

The report also decries Cargill for doing damage to the planet and the lands of indigenous communities in South America—even after pledging to eliminate deforestation from its supply chain by 2020.

“We found that Cargill was still driving deforestation at some of the same sites we had first visited (in 2017), despite the scrutiny,” the report says. “Between Cargill and their doppleganger Bunge, they had cleared the equivalent of 10,000 football fields [to plant] soy.”

Last month, the company announced that “despite [its] best efforts,” it would “fall short” of its 2020 goal.

For these reasons and more, Mighty Earth and partner Minnesota Clean Water Action are honoring the company. It's not exactly an attempt to sway Cargill. Mighty Earth organizer Michael Greenberg says the company is aware of the report, but hasn’t “expressed strong interest in changing [its] ways.”

Rather, this is a message to other companies—the restaurants and grocery stores buying its turkey and chocolate.

“Cargill can only continue the destructive and reckless practices in this report if restaurant chains and supermarkets continue to buy products from them and sell them to the public,” the report says. “Only… when Cargill is no longer The Worst Company in the World can these companies resume their purchases of Cargill products in good conscience.”

A representative from Cargill says the company was still reviewing the report, but sent a statement saying it "works every day to put food on family tables around the world—safely, sustainably, and responsibly."

"We have a strong track record of successfully addressing complex challenges and driving lasting, positive change for the entire industry—and apply that expertise to ending deforestation and protecting human rights."