Setting the Record Straight: Cargill and Tripa Forest Controversy


Written by Ashley Schaeffer

Although there are no major fires still tearing through the Tripa peat forest in Sumatra — the largest remaining Sumatran orangutan habitat in the world — updates from our allies on the ground tell us that Tripa is still gravely at risk. With one or two small fires still breaking out each day, combined with ongoing active forest clearing for palm oil plantations, the critically endangered orangutans depending on this forest for survival remain in danger.

Despite the international spotlight on Tripa since late March, there is still active clearing and building of more drainage canals going deep into primary forest.

I wish I could say that some of the largest players in the palm oil industry, such as Cargill, are doing everything in their power to ensure that controversial palm oil coming from these types of tragedies isn’t ending up in their supply chain (and our pantries), but that is definitely not the case.

RAN’s report, Truth and Consequences: Palm Oil Plantations Push Unique Orangutan Population to Brink of Extinction, points out that Cargill has no safeguards on its global palm oil supply chain, and that without such safeguards Cargill cannot ensure it is not contributing to egregious violations like the one underway in the Tripa peat forest of Indonesia.

Although Cargill is still misleading the public by releasing statements like the one from last week, titled, “Cargill Refutes Rainforest Action Network claims about Tripa Forest,” the bottom line remains: Cargill traffics a whopping 25% of the world’s palm oil and Cargill cannot ensure it is not trading palm oil from Tripa or parent companies profiting from the destruction of Tripa because it has no safeguards whatsoever in place to prevent it.

RAN released an official response to Cargill’s misleading claims last week with the following key points:

  • Cargill claims that it “does not import Indonesian palm oil to the United States.” This is pure obfuscation. By Cargill’s own estimate, nearly 90 percent of the world’s palm oil is sourced from Indonesia and Malaysia, and the company traffics 25 percent of the world’s palm oil. Cargill’s claim that it does not ship any Indonesian palm oil into the U.S. is misleading and insincere, as a percentage of Indonesia’s palm oil is refined in Malaysia before being shipped to the US.
  • Cargill also claims that it is not associated with the devastating fires raging throughout the Tripa rainforest of Indonesia. Cargill is hiding behind a shell game of shifting company ownership and complicated trade relationships between a web of subsidiary suppliers. However, the fact is that Cargill has a history of trading with at least one company that has profited from the destruction of the priceless Tripa rainforest.Trade data held by Rainforest Action Network shows that Cargill shipped at least 4,000 tons of crude palm oil produced by Astra Agro Lestari from the island of Sumatra in 2009. Astra Agro Lestari produced and exported palm oil from Tripa until at least 2010.According to Bloomberg, Astra Agro Lestari also sells millions of dollars of palm oil a year to industry giants Wilmar and Sinar Mas — two major suppliers of palm oil to Cargill. With a lack of supply chain transparency and no safeguards to prevent it, Cargill cannot in good faith claim never to have sold palm oil connected to the destruction of the endangered Tripa forest.
  • Cargill has an enormous influence to exercise on the global palm oil market. The only way Cargill can guarantee it is not contributing to the devastation underway in Indonesia is if it adopts explicit environmental, social and transparency safeguards to prevent it, which does not mean relying on a third party like the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). It does mean taking responsibility for the practices of its suppliers. Cargill as a company has not articulated its values for its supply chain, meaning it does not publicly position itself against common abuses associated with palm oil production like slave labor and deforestation. Cargill has stated an intention to phase RSPO-certified oil into its global supply chain by 2020. However, the RSPO has at best a very spotty track record of enforcing its own rules to prevent tragedies like the one underway in Tripa. At the rate of destruction occurring today, 2020 is too little, too late for the forests, people and wildlife of Southeast Asia.

Just last week, Unilever, the world’s largest buyer of palm oil, announced a commitment to buy all of its palm oil, including its palm kernel oil, from traceable sources by 2020. Cargill’s modest commitments explicitly exclude palm kernel oil, an important commodity in the US market. Cargill also has no commitment to traceability, a crucial element for achieving transparency and accountability.

Cargill is showing an alarming failure to deliver on its time-bound commitments, including to secure RSPO certification for all of its palm oil plantations by the end of 2010, and completion of a survey and review of the practices of its palm oil suppliers by early 2011.

This post was originally published by Rainforest Action Network.


Related Stories:

Top 3 Victims of Palm Oil: Wildlife, People and Planet

Miracle Rescue of Orangutan Caught in Snare

Terrified Orangutans Saved from Hunters


Photo from mizmak via flickr


Fred Hoekstra
Fred Hoekstra4 years ago

Thank you Ashley, for Sharing this!

federico bortoletto
federico b5 years ago

NO all'olio di palma.

Ruth R.
Ruth R5 years ago

Like Catherine D.'s comment "Evil exists because good people do nothing.
Boycott all palm oil.
If the manufacturer of the food item you desire cannot vouch for the FAIR TRADE and otherwise ETHICAL source of the palm oil in the food the produce,


Jamey V.
Jamey V.5 years ago

We need to protect this amazing creature, in my opinion one of the most interesting ones in this world.

Katherine Wright
Katherine Wright5 years ago

Boycott products and corporations that include palm oil in their products. A little education and some label reading will enlighten you and allow you to make more educated and environmentally and animal friendly decisions. It's simply the right thing to do. There are products out there that do not use palm oil. Use them. You'll be happy to know that you are making a positive difference.

Carolyn SmithSmith
Cally Smith5 years ago

Yes and don't buy Dove products or anything by Unilever. Say no to Fairy Liquid too. Most biscuits contain palm oil sadly, and only buy good quality chocolate without the 'veg oil' content. Only buy crisps and chips with sunflower oil. Cleaning products? Buy Faith in Nature or Earth Friendly and DON'T assume that something labelled 'ECO' or similar doesn't contain palm oil - it probably does. Look out for Sodium Laurel/laureth sulphate (SLS) in your beauty and cleaning product ingredient list - this is derived from palm oil and is almost always near the top of the ingredients list ie: contains lots of it. The RSPO was founded in the nineties (it is completely useless), particularly since most of the certified palm oil isn't even in the chain. If Cargill and Unilever really cared it wouldn't take them almost a decade to start using RSPO certified palm oil. It's bullshit. I have absolutely NO IDEA how we can save the rainforest to be honest. Remember too, to watch where your timber comes from...........

Christine Stewart

Boycott ALL palm oil until the killing of orangutans stops! Especially Nutella, International delight coffee creamer, natural "no-stir" peanut butter, Smart Balance margarine, cheap holiday chocolates, frosting, etc...

Anita Wisch
Anita Wisch5 years ago

Read labels, put your wallet where your ethics are!

sheri denato
Past Member 5 years ago

NO Palm Oil!

Kari Knabe
Kari Knabe5 years ago

I will be reading labels (watching for palm oil as well as for the manufacturer) & boycotting - hit their pocketbook & hopefully they will pay attention!! Also, go to their Facebook page & post your protest to their unethical & environmentally dangerous practises!