Rainforest Action Network Targets General Mills, Cargill Over Palm Oil
Minnesota-based General Mills' brands--including Cheerios, Betty Crocker, Pillsbury, Nature Valley and Progresso--are some of the most trusted by mainstream America. But around 100 of their products include palm oil or palm oil derivatives purchased from Cargill, the country's biggest private multinational. That makes General Mills complicit in the rainforest destruction, land theft, and human rights violations brought about by palm oil production.
On Tuesday morning, 42 Twin Cities activists and the Rainforest Action Network (RAN) paid General Mills a visit at their Golden Valley headquarters, unfurling a seventy by thirty foot banner reading "Warning! General Mills Destroys Rainforests." They held the banner over a frozen pond for about half an hour, while a helicopter circled overhead taking aerial photos. After getting the photos, they left with no trouble from security.
RAN's Cargill Campaign | The Problem With Palm Oil | RAN Twin Cities | Cheerios Maker Linked to Rainforest Destruction || Previously: Holiday Petition Delivery to Cargill | Orangutan Activists Visit Cargill (Video) | See below for more photos (Aerial photos by: Mercury Miller/RAN) | NEW: Video produced by TCIMC and RAN (2 mins.)
The Twin Cities chapter of the Rainforest Action Network has held a number of actions targeting Cargill this year, including a petition delivery to their Wayzata headquarters and street theater involving activists dressed as orangutans (whose habitat is threatened by palm oil plantations). They've also held a number of teach-ins at local co-ops and community spaces.
Nationally, last year RAN organized hundreds of people armed with stickers reading "Warning: May Contain Rainforest Destruction" to scour grocery stores for products containing palm oil. Such products aren't hard to find. Counting Vitamin A Palmitate, which is often derived from palm oil, one source says nearly one in ten products in an average U.S. grocery store contain it, including Oreos, Fiber One, Cheerios and vegan favorite Earth Balance. Much of that palm oil flows through Cargill's monoculture plantations and distribution centers. They're the largest importer of palm oil, essentially the cheapest source of fat in the world, from Southeast Asia to the United States.
General Mills is one of Cargill's biggest customers, having done business with them for over 100 years. That makes them a secondary target for RAN, which has hounded Cargill through numerous actions over the past year. RAN hopes that through consumers pressuring General Mills, Cargill too will feel the heat. Tuesday's action was the public kickoff of their campaign against General Mills, and comes after months of executives refusing to talk.
Because of that refusal, General Mills was put on notice that activists would be publically calling them out. Finally, General Mills agreed to a phone meeting Wednesday. But after the RAN action at their headquarters, they emailed to say they're pulling out of the dialogue, preferring to talk with less confrontational, more corporate-friendly NGOs instead.
Is there such a thing as "Sustainable Palm Oil," and can agribusiness giants be reformed?
General Mills devoted three paragraphs of its 2009 Corporate Social Responsibility Report to palm oil. "We share the concerns about deforestation caused by palm oil production, and the resulting effect on climate change and biodiversity," the report says. "To support the goals and efforts of the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), General Mills has pledged to restrict our purchases of palm products to suppliers that are members of the RSPO."
"General Mills uses relatively small amounts of palm oil and does not purchase any palm oil directly [because they go through Cargill instead]," the report claims. But in a 2008 Minneapolis Star Tribune puff piece, Duke Seiblod, General Mills' techonology director, said their use of palm oil "is pretty ubiquitous. It can be used in ramen noodles, croissants; it has a very wide application."
The RSPO was originally formed through a partnership between the notoriously corporate-friendly NGO the World Wildlife Fund and food giant Unilever in 2003. Cargill, Bunge, and Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) affiliate Wilmar--together the three agribusiness giants that dominate the world palm oil markets--are all members of the RSPO.
In late 2008, a global meeting of civil society organizations including the World Rainforest Movement (headquarted in Uruguay) convened in Italy, calling itself the Alternative Network Against Impunity and Market Globalisation. The meeting issued a declaration "against the RSPO's greenwashing of the palm oil industry" and in support of resistance to the then-upcoming RSPO conference in Colombia.
The declaration states that the RSPO "seeks to legitimize a harmful business that infringes on the rights of indigenous, Afro-Colombian and peasant communities. At the same time as it seriously impacts lands and natural heritage through a strategy that seeks to facilitate the marketing of products derived from the oil palm, the RSPO generates only higher dividends, and not solutions to the conflicts that are created. In fact, no certification process can guarantee such solutions.”
Signed by 256 environmental organizations worldwide, the declaration goes into extensive detail about the effects of monoculure palm oil plantations, including deforestation, increased global climate change, displacement of indigenous peoples, increased use of agrochemicals, the illegal appropriation of land by force, and violation of the right to food soveriegnty.
"Any model that includes the conversion of natural habitats into large-scale monoculture plantations cannot, by definition, be sustainable," the declaration says. "We are still in time to radically change our methods of producing, transforming, trading and consuming farm produce." It calls for ending the privatization of natural resources, dismantling agri-business companies, and replacing industrial agriculture with sustainable peasant and family agriculture.
how much does a 70x30 banner weigh, you may ask? answer: 80 pounds.