Two of the world’s biggest grain traders are sourcing soy from a Brazilian farm linked to abuses of indigenous rights and land, a report from the environmental group Earthsight claims
Earthsight named the companies as Bunge and Cargill and said they sourced soy produced on a farm located on ancestral land of the Kaiowá indigenous group.
The Kaiowá were forcibly evicted by landowners more than half a century ago but the group have continued to stake their claim to land they know as Takuara.
The land was subsequently deforested to make way for cattle and soy plantations. A member of the Kaiowá, Marcos Verón, a septuagenarian chief, was beaten to death in violent clashes there in 2003 when he led a group of people seeking to take back their territory.
Cargill buys soy grown on the 9,700-hectare farm, which is now known as Brasília do Sul, the Earthsight report claims. Bunge, it said, processes soy bought from the farm by intermediaries.
The report said: “Our investigation demonstrates how Cargill’s irresponsible indigenous rights policy and Bunge’s questionable traceability of indirect suppliers, expose their supply chains to illegalities and violent conflict, despite their stated commitments on human rights.”
Cargill confirmed it bought soy from Brasília do Sul but said in a statement to the Guardian that because the farm did not officially belong to the Kaiowá “there was no illegality”.
Bunge refused to say whether it sourced soy from Brasília do Sul but said its commercial operations with suppliers were “legal” and “complied with Brazilian legislation and company procedures”.
Both companies have detailed labour, indigenous rights and sustainability policies. Together the firms account for 30.8% of Brazilian soy exports to the EU and UK.
The Brasília do Sul farm is in the state of Mato Grosso do Sul and run by the Jacintho family, a leading landowner in Brazil’s soy and cattle belt, Earthsight said.
Luana Fernandes, a lawyer for the Jacintho family, said they had no comment on the group’s report.
The territory was recognised as belonging to the Guarani-Kaiowá in 2010 but successive governments have not taken the final step needed to give the Kaiowá legal ownership, according to Earthsight.
Under Brazilian law, anthropologists working in conjunction with lawyers, sociologists, cartographers and other experts must study the land and its history before deciding to whom it belongs. Formal deeds are conferred by a presidential decree but that final step has been delayed for more than 10 years due to legal wrangles.
Some of the soy produced at Brasília do Sul goes to Cargill and Bunge, but the complexity of supply chains makes it difficult to state whether food linked to those beans are sold by UK retailers, said the study’s author.
Rubens Carvalho, Earthsight’s head of deforestation research, said: “The point is that it contaminates the supply chain. Whether this particular bit of soy that fed a chicken ends up at Tesco or McDonald’s in the end is a little irrelevant because the point is that the British market, and other European markets for that matter, are contaminated by a supply chain that is linked to a farm with a long history of indigenous rights violations. And that in itself should be a major red flag to buyers of these products.”
Allegations that the soy produced there is tainted comes just six weeks after a joint investigation by Earthsight and the environmental group De Olho nos Ruralistas claimed European supermarkets and fast-food chains sold chicken and pet food produced with soy from Brasília do Sul.
The claims also come at a tense moment for indigenous rights in Brazil. The far-right president, Jair Bolsonaro, has made no secret of his disdain for the more than 200 indigenous groups in the country, once saying the Brazilian military erred in not decimating their native peoples like the US cavalry.
The former army captain promised not to give indigenous people “one more square centimetre of land” and he has proudly kept that promise since taking power almost four years ago.
In the most recent incident, the British journalist Dom Phillips and indigenous activist Bruno Pereira were murdered while travelling in the Javari Valley, a remote area near Brazil’s border with Peru that is home to several remote tribes.
Indigenous leaders in the region said the government had abandoned the area, allowing drug traffickers and illegal miners, ranchers and hunters to seize land and strip the region of its natural resources.