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Cargill: Rolling in Cash, Relying on Child Labor

Business is booming for the behemoth agricultural commodities trader Cargill. This week, the company announced a tripling of profits in the second quarter of its fiscal year. In the three months prior to November 30, Cargill's net earnings were a whopping $1.49 billion compared to $489 million during the same period a year ago. So why is this company still sourcing products made by forced and child labor?

Cargill's success is due in part to its ability to profit from the high food prices that are gripping the world. The UN's Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Bank have recently warned about the threat that continued rising prices at an all-time high pose for food security globally. From Haiti to Senegal to Bangladesh, food riots have broken out in reaction to price hikes on basic food items, echoing the protests that hit many countries throughout 2008. Recently, Algeria raised the prices of staples like flour, sugar and cooking oil by an average of 30 percent, leading to protests that left three people dead, hundreds injured and close to 1,000 people in jail.

High prices for food may be devastating for millions of people around the world, but clearly companies like Cargill have little to complain about as their corporate profits accumulate. While Cargill makes more money than ever, it is shocking that the company is somehow unable to mobilize its immense resources to stop the use of forced labor and abusive child labor by its palm oil supplier. As I wrote on last month, there are numerous cases of workers being trapped and forced to work under unsafe conditions on palm oil plantations supplying for Cargill in Malaysia and Indonesia.

Almost 200 readers have already called on Cargill to stop forced and child labor in its palm oil supply chain and they are not alone. Forty five companies have signed on to a pledge organized by the Rainforest Action Network (RAN) that specifically calls on Cargill to take action to responsibly source its palm oil to avoid environmental and human rights violations. RAN's campaign activities even helped convince General Mills to become a leader among major corporations in committing to responsible and sustainable palm oil production.