Coronavirus can bring to light many of the major changes our society needs. Let’s not let it distract us from ongoing issues that demand our attention — like the destruction of planet Earth. Right now, corporations like Costco are leading the rest of society in social distancing practices and helping to protect us from the coronavirus pandemic. However, Costco should also be a leader on environmental practices. During this crisis, it’s clearer than ever that the company has the power to affect climate change.
Cargill, one of Costco’s meat suppliers, has a long track record of environmental destruction around the globe. In the Amazon, Cargill has ignored its part in destroying the rainforest. Its business model encourages the exploitation and exhaustion of natural resources. Instead of encouraging local ranchers to use sustainable practices, Cargill continues to tacitly support the devastation of the world’s lungs. Like many corporations, it claims to bring in revenue to impoverished communities. In reality, the depletion of the rainforest leads to drought and to declines in community wellness and income. Cargill leaders know this, as all corporate heads exploiting the earth know it, but continue barreling down a destructive path.
Soil erosion is causing a massive dead zone in the Gulf. This makes it clear that the damage we do to one part of the world can quickly hurt another part just as easily. Soil erosion in Latin America can kill off fisheries vital to coastal communities in the U.S. The loss of the Amazon’s carbon sequestration means hotter summers and worse fires in California. The destitution of local communities after resources are exhausted will lead to more refugees. Our world is interconnected; the abuse we lay upon one part of it will inevitably swing back to us. If we do not act to stop this damage, it will come back with a vengeance.
In recent years, Cargill has used the rise of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro to gain even more access to the country’s forests and savannas. Bolsonaro has facilitated an industrial takeover of Indigenous peoples’ lands, often leading to the violent removal of tribes. The livelihoods of Indigenous peoples are also threatened by the degradation of the surrounding land, which leads to pesticides in their drinking water and reduced hunting opportunities. By sourcing meat from Cargill, Costco places its customers in a terrifying web of responsibility, tying individual purchases to the violence unleashed on these Indigenous communities.
Even in the U.S., Cargill has proven itself to be a bad actor. In 2017, Cargill settled a case for $10 million: It was accused of inaccurately reporting its earnings to manipulate the market. It is one of four major meat packing companies that make up a majority of the market. All four have been accused of coordinating to heighten prices and kill competition. During the pandemic, they have been sued for price-gouging, and 11 state attorneys general have filed a complaint with the Justice Department, asking for an investigation of their business practices. Cargill leaders perpetuated the myth of a “meat shortage” to have their business treated as essential. Instead, the shortage was caused by high export rates. Cargill did not need to be categorized as essential but manipulated the facts to get their way. Cargill is not a friend to Indigenous communities, to workers in their factories, to Costco and certainly not to consumers.
Costco has the reach to be the hero we need. It is up to us to call on Costco — founded in Seattle and headquartered in Issaquah — to cut ties with Cargill unless that company makes a major course correction. This change is bigger than just Costco; if one of the largest grocery chains in the country sets a better standard, others will follow. The same goes for the many fast food chains that are linked to Cargill, such as McDonald’s and Burger King. With our purchasing power, we can sway these industry giants to source their meat, soy products and palm oil more responsibly. If companies like Costco take the need for change seriously, we will hopefully one day live in a world where buying food doesn’t come at the cost of our only home: planet Earth.
Elise Jacobsen is a social justice activist among a Seattle-area group putting pressure on Costco to divest from environmental destruction. Jacobsen is a student of society and justice, which led to this knowledge and interest in climate justice.
Read more in the Aug. 5-11, 2020 issue.