Federal prosecutors have launched a criminal investigation into Cargill’s acquisition of land in the Brazilian Amazon rainforest where the US-based agricultural conglomerate intends to build a sizeable river port.

A spokesperson for the Public Prosecutor’s Office in Brazil’s northern Pará state said it found “irregularities” in dealings between Cargill and a Brazilian partner.

Cargill’s private land purchases “showed signs of being completely precarious and lacking minimum requirements to be considered legal,” prosecutors stated in a July memo, reported by Brazilian news site Sumauma on Monday 2 October.

The US’ biggest private company has faced a wave of criticism for disregarding damage to local ecosystems and communities living in the surrounding Abaetetuba islands.

Families in the area say the Amazonian port violates their Santo Afonso Agroextractivist Settlement Area, denominated to them by INCRA, Brazil’s federal land reform agency.

In an environmental impact report, Cargill openly admitted that the grain-exporting port project could “alter the tidal dynamic” and “interfere with fishing activity”.

Cargill continues the legacy of Amazonian ruin

If built, the Amazonian river port would be Cargill’s third in the state of Pará.

Human rights organisation Terra de Direitos accused Cargill of violating at least nine laws, conventions and international treaties when it built its first port in Santarém (2003) and second in Miritituba (2017).

The criminal probe comes amid revelations that Cargill does not prioritise the environment as a thematic factor behind job hiring in Brazil, GlobalData research shows. Foreign direct investment and health and safety have consistently ranked higher since February 2022.

Cargill has also faced repeated scrutiny for supply chain links with Brazilian companies and farms engaging in deforestation.

In 2020, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, Unearthed, the Guardian and ITV News revealed that land used by Cargill soya suppliers has witnessed 800sq. km of deforestation and 12,000 tropical woodland fires since 2015.

This soya was used to feed chicken stocked in leading UK supermarkets and food outlets including Tesco, Asda, Lidl, McDonald’s and Nando’s.

Cargill ESG commitments pledge to cease deforestation entirely by 2030. The company, which reported revenues of $165bn last year, previously promised to ensure its soy from the Amazon and the Cerrado biome is deforestation-free by 2025.

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