Traders refute ‘human rights violation’ claims in Global Witness soy report

By Jane Byrne

- Last updated on GMT

© GettyImages/JJ Gouin
© GettyImages/JJ Gouin

Related tags Cargill Bunge Adm Soy Brazil

An investigation by Global Witness alleges that global commodity traders, ADM, Bunge and Cargill, are dealing in ‘conflict-tainted soy’ sourced from powerful agricultural producers in Brazil.

In doing so, they are fueling human rights abuses caused by soy suppliers in conflict with traditional communities in Brazil’s Bahia state, claimed the NGO. 

The findings of Global Witness’ investigation were published in a report​ released last week; the NGO contacted the traders for comment and their responses appear in the report.

The human rights group claimed the community of Capao de Modesto in Bahia state, Brazil, is facing death threats and violence as soy producers try to force them from their sustainably managed land.

It alleged that security guards hired by a group of major soy producers have carried out violence, destruction of property and death threats against the traditional community, while they also face litigation to prevent them from accessing their lands.

The conflict is an example of a ‘green land grab’ claimed the NGO, whereby plots within the territory critical to the lives and culture of customary communities have been co-opted as ‘legal reserves’ - forest areas that Brazilian law requires be preserved to offset deforestation for soy – in order to bestow legal and environmental legitimacy on the operations of regional soy producers.

The abuses and litigation are documented in police reports, court filings, and powerful personal testimonies,”​ it reported.

The organization alleged that the producers’ relationships with the multinational soy traders were revealed through commercial and legal records and via the testimonies of local trade representatives.

ADM probe: No irregularities found

ADM said it started a probe into the claims on foot of communication from the human rights group.

ADM spokesperson, Jackie Anderson, told FeedNavigator: “On November 3, we received a letter from Global Witness alleging that suppliers in our supply chain in Bahia had irregularities that violated the company's policies in the area of human rights. ADM immediately opened an investigation to check these allegations within the period requested by Global Witness. The investigation did not find any non-compliances related to local legislation requirements or related to ADM´s policies from any of the suppliers with whom ADM has commercial relationships for sourcing commodities.”

Cargill: Robust social and environmental procedures in place

Cargill spokesperson, ​Nicole Marlor, told us the company does not work with or source soy from Agropecuaria Sementes Talismã or NPK Transoperadora, two of the ‘conflict-tainted’ soy producers referenced in Global Witness’ report, and it has notified the NGO in relation to that.

The US trader, in an official response to the claims made by Global Witness, said it is strongly committed to protecting human rights in its operations, supply chains and communities, with a formal human rights commitment.

The company said it has robust procedures in place to ensure it is respecting social and environmental restrictions.

If it learns of any grievance against farmers, suppliers or partners, it said it takes immediate action in accordance with its supplier code of conduct and policy on South American soy.

On a daily basis, we systematically consult government lists of embargoed farms and block them so they are not eligible to sell product to us. Our system also consults lists of non-compliant farms based on the Amazon Soy Moratorium, as well as the Green Grain Protocol. When a farm is blocked in our system for being on one of these lists, we also block other farms registered to the same person or entity either in the local area or the entire country, depending on the violation involved.

“These affiliated farms are only unblocked once we have conducted an analysis to ensure that product from the violating farm is not being rerouted and sold to us through an affiliated operation.”

Bunge: No commercial relationship with producers identified in report

Bunge also stressed, in its reply to a letter from Global Witness, that it has no commercial relationship with NPK Transoperadora, Lavobrás Comércio e Representações, or Agropecuária Sementes Talismã in Bahia State.

In its response to the NGO's claims about land conflict in Bahia State, Bunge said it was ‘unaware’ of the facts as presented, but that its enquiries had identified that farmers had brought litigation to repossess legal reserve areas from ‘invasion by third parties’. 

The trader said it has socio-environmental policies and applies all of them in its global value chains, and that it “condemns the practice of any acts of violence, illegal activities, and violations of anyone’s protected rights.”

Bunge said clauses in its soybean purchase contracts in Brazil require its suppliers to respect and protect human rights, including the possibility of unilateral termination by the company in the event of non-compliance with its contracts.

The company also reported that it has an open channel in several languages to investigate and address these types of complaints.

Supplier disclosure

The Global Witness publication described the soy supply chain as “unnecessarily opaque”​ to outsiders not party to its contracts, impeding transparency and accountability in the trade of this major commodity, and the NGO calls out the soy traders for not disclosing any of their suppliers.

The group urged the Brazilian government to prioritize the provision of recognized land titles to traditional communities in Brazil.

In addition, the organization demanded strong action from the European Commission as it moves ahead with new draft legislation to hold companies liable for human rights and environmental harms in their supply chains.

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