Of Orangutans and Chainsaws: Cargill, Inc. Confronts the Rainforest Action Network Advocacy
(7 pages of text)
AWARD WINNING CASE - This case won the 2012 Oikos Sustainability Case Writing Competition. Cargill, Inc., the privately owned, U.S.-based agribusiness company, was one of the largest sellers of palm oil in the world. Starting in 2007, the company was targeted by the Rainforest Action Network (RAN), a non-governmental organization (NGO) that advocated environmentalism. RAN targeted Cargill because the production of palm oil in countries such as Indonesia and Malaysia destroyed rainforests. Pressure was put on Cargill’s customers, including Nestle, to demand palm oil produced by sustainable farming. Palm oil producers formed an industry-monitoring body called the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). A September 2011 announcement of Indonesia’s withdrawal from the RSPO warranted a response from Cargill to combat the strident protest of RAN. Cargill’s CEO had to come up with a plan of action to respond to RAN’s demands.
NGOs are playing an increasingly important role in holding corporations accountable for the effects of their decisions on sustainability. The Europe-based Greenpeace and the U.S.-based RAN are particularly adept at causing public embarrassment for corporations that allegedly run afoul of sustainability standards. The case can be used to discuss the following issues regarding sustainability:
- The challenge posed by an activist NGO whose mission is to promote global sustainability.
- The role and efficacy of an industry-sponsored group to monitor sustainability.
- The tensions caused by the interplay of commercial and sustainability interests.
- The expectations and roles of various stakeholders who are affected by a specific issue.
- The challenge to organizational legitimacy posed by strategic decisions.
This is a decision-oriented case. Students have to play the role of Cargill’s chairman and CEO and decide on a course of action to respond to RAN’s protests. The case can be taught as a discussion case or a role-play case where one group of students takes on the role of Cargill, a second acts as RAN, and a third acts as the RSPO. The discussion questions that follow assume a 75-minute class session, although the instructor may want to schedule a two-class discussion. If used as a two-class case, the instructor can use a number of videos (referenced in the teaching note) to enhance student interest.
Agriculture, Forestry, Fishing and Hunting
Indonesia; United States, Large, 2011
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