Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
Cargill: The worst company in the world (2019) [pdf] (mightyearth.org)
159 points by adrian_mrd 14 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 52 comments



In April, in the Canadian province of Alberta, an outbreak at a single Cargill meat packing plant[1] accounted for one quarter of all COVID-19 cases in the entire province. The outbreak was blamed on cramped and overcrowded working conditions, although the province did inspect and fail to close down the facility[2]. The majority of the workers were poorly paid temporary foreign workers, and significant numbers were laid off when the plant was temporarily shut down[3]. Despite the lessons learned from this outbreak, other Cargill facilities in the province continue to have outbreaks[4].

[1]https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/calgary/3rd-covid-19-death-ca...

[2]https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/calgary/cargill-alberta-covid...

[3]https://www.theglobeandmail.com/canada/alberta/article-alber...

[4]https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/calgary/covid-outbreak-cargil...


Is there a lot of evidence that Cargill has particularly poor conditions? I ask because meatpacking necessarily creates optimal conditions for spread of droplet or airborne viruses. It has to be cold, to prevent spoilage, air circulation must be limited to reduce refrigeration energy consumption, and it has to be a relatively confined space to reduce convection and radiated energy.

The meat-packing plants were well-designed given their constraints, but this coronavirus was unanticipated, and creating production facilities with more protections against this will take a lot of time and money. These new facilities would also use much more energy (roughly proportional to the increase in area required), so you have to ask whether those costs would be worth incurring to help with the next (hypothetical) outbreak. It's too late to build new facilities for this one.


Looks exactly the same situation as we had in Germany with meatpacking: poor people exploited in gruesome work conditions and inadequately housed. That and farming slave labor is what drove superspread corona events over the last months.


Meat factories pay very well for someone with no skills. I for one I am grateful for being given the opportunity to work in meatpacking industry for a summer.


Point. It's easy to assume that the alternative to bad_job is better_job, when in fact it's no_job.

It's good to fight for better working conditions for all, but not without remembering the lowest-end of the wage ladder.

(Which isn't to be interpreted as an argument against minimum wage increases, but rather that there needs to be an on-ramp for those who didn't grow up with privilege)


This is precisely why instead of forcing people to work under dangerous conditions we should be paying people to stay home and accepting slow-downs in production.


We definitely don't want a slow down in food production.


But we do want people getting paid low wages to continue working for low wages even though their risks are higher because they made choices or were born into circumstances that led them to not have work from home jobs.


No one will die from not having meat for every single meal. Especially the climate could actually benefit from reducing meat intake, given that especially cattle are a large impact on co2 - not to mention all the rainforest in South America being razed for beef lots and beef feed material.

I enjoyed the 2015 EconTalk podcast Greg Page on Food, Agriculture, and Cargill [1]:

> Greg Page, former CEO of Cargill, the largest privately-held company in America, talks to EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the global food supply and the challenges of running a company with employees and activity all over the world. Page talks about the role of prices in global food markets in signaling information and prompting changes in response to those signals. Other topics include government's role in agriculture, the locavore movement and genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

[1] https://www.econtalk.org/greg-page-on-food-agriculture-and-c...


So this is something I actually feel somewhat knowledgeable (qualified?) enough to speak on. As to why, happy to discuss in the comments, though I don't think it's relevant to what I'm about to say.

Cargill is just another 'private company' in the same way that Carnegie Steel was just another private company, or Standard Oil was just another publicly traded company. It's actually a family business in the truest sense of the word. The family itself owns nearly the entire financial stake in the business, and controls the rest in all but name.

With 115+ billion in annual revenue, they are one of the largest companies in the world, public or private. I believe if you exclude state owned enterprises, they would be top 50 worldwide somewhere around Microsoft. And as far as companies go, at least on the corporate side, they seem to treat their employees well from both a benefits and compensation standpoint.

They operate in multiple markets with near impunity where they are, essentially, the only buyer or seller of goods at scale. And, depending on who you believe and how you read into things, are responsible for anything ranging from really terrible industrial accidents, all the way up to exploitation and nation state style cover-ups and atrocities.

Why is this? And this is where I get to the 'trust me if you dare, just my opinion' part of the post, but... few short reasons.

One -- They're privately held, and subject to much less scrutiny because of it.

Two -- They're a generational wealth family business. Combine that with the lack of 'publicly traded' above and those who are actually delegated the work have no incentive to step out of line.

Three -- In almost every market they're in, the cost of them ceasing operations in that market is perceived as more harmful, for everyone, than whatever negative externalities they happen to create.

Happy to clarify, or hear how I'm wrong in my thinking.


There is no company or person so bad that defenders won't crawl out of the woodwork.

There are laws already on the books allowing corporate officers to be charged individually for, e.g., wrongful deaths, gross negligence, destroyed livelihoods. All we need is for prosecutors to start using them.

Whenever I mention this, somebody pops up babbling about hysteria, as if those laws were written and passed in some sort of fit.


> "Cargill is the United States’ largest privately held company"

I wonder, should large companies be required to go public once they grow beyond a certain size? Does private ownership reduce transparency and accountability? Are privately held companies more likely to be secretive "evil corps" like Koch and Cargill?


Maybe, but how would you achieve that in a way that a company can't evade the criteria? A company can split up and diversify its operations across multiple companies but still operate as one. FTE count, annual revenue, amount of offices, etc. are all things that a company can have direct influence on.



How about start holding our elected officials accountable? I mean as much as I felt disgusted by the things I read, I am more disgusted by the fact that the company just gets away with these things. I mean they paid $25 million for price fixing because it was unfair to other big corporations or $250 million for tax avoidance, but almost nothing for every time they dumped toxic waste into the water because it's the public that gets affected? I'm sorry but we need to make the elected officials work for us, not corporations.


wow. it's really disgusting to flip through this. sane advice: don't go into it if you are already in a bad mood.


Jeez, 20yrs ago when I finished highschool I worked the kill floor at Cargill (Guelph Ont, CAN) for 4 months.


Is the site down? Anyone have a mirror/archive linky? On mobile so dont have my little web archive bookmarklet... :'(



Waiting for the Netflix documentary or an episode from John Oliver.



Why don’t we hear more about Cargill on this site?


They are a private company, so no stock drama only some family drama. They are out of Minnesota and most people ignore that as a corporate center. Most of what they do isn't under the name Cargill. They actually resemble an old conglomerate more than a focused company. Heck, most employees don't know what all they do, and you really don't interact with that many other divisions.

Also, realistically and in comparison to other companies, you really have to stretch to call them public enemy one. There is really no danger of Cargill impacting your life like one of the big tech companies. There are other strong players in everyone of their markets.


> There is really no danger of Cargill impacting your life like one of the big tech companies.

Cargill is the second largest producer of beef in the US and among their numerous issues are deaths due to E Coli. Not to mention their rampant chemical dumping.

If you are a US citizen you are more likely to be killed by Cargill than by most of the big tech companies (I said "most" instead of "all" because I think the jury is still out on Amazon).


There is really no danger of Cargill impacting your life like one of the big tech companies.

If you are a US citizen you are more likely to be killed by Cargill than by most of the big tech companies (I said "most" instead of "all" because I think the jury is still out on Amazon).

A bit of a difference between those statements. I'm growing less and less fond of HN's tendency to push people to the thin ice.

I do believe that the average person has a higher chance of being impacted by any of the big techs causing pain, then getting sick from something at a Cargill plant. Cargill isn't a delta away from the problems other companies experience. Heck, salad companies seem to be the biggest offender. I was never worried about beef. Turkey on the other hand seemed to show up a lot in the news.

Not to mention their rampant chemical dumping.

When I think rampant chemical dumping, I think of 3M poisoning the ground in various places. There was a real case of politicians letting a company off.


I'll admit it's not exactly a straightforward comparison. And it's on each of us to weigh the costs and likelihood of becoming ill versus big tech causing pain. I have my weighting, you have yours.

On my scale, between their various meats, the pollutants they use, and the various spills (plenty listed in the article and online) I'd come down harder on Cargill than tech.


Statistically, I'm betting on big tech since they have caused me more pain. Now, a couple restaurant chains, I might have a different answer.

As to chemicals, do remember that the whole tech industry is built on companies that did significant dumping.https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2019/09/silic...


Life impact is subjective. It's unclear how a severe impact on a relatively small number of people compares to whatever the tech companies do, which AFAICT is more of a small impact on many people. Why is your position on impact so sound while others are on "thin ice"? A bit of unearned condescension to lead with that sentiment.


Not from food-borne illness but from diabetes and heart disease. imo Cargill's role via extensive lobbying in causing an epidemic of heart disease can't be overstated.


Beef is very rare as an E Coli vector in the US. Almost all outbreaks are due to produce, especially spinach.



While I might quibble with the "very", beef is a rare vector for e. coli infection, even based on this limited outbreak list: https://www.cdc.gov/ecoli/outbreaks.html To some degree it makes sense, because people have been conditioned to treat meat as a disease vector and tend to treat it more carefully than greens and other plant products.

Also, highlighting a single Cargill outbreak says nothing either way about the correctness of "very rare".


9 cases over a 20 year period. They actually had a death which is more than I expected.


That said, I believe E Coli typically gets on plants because cow waste contaminates water used for irrigation, so poorly managed beef and dairy production are the root cause.


>Most of what they do isn't under the name Cargill. They actually resemble an old conglomerate

> There is really no danger of Cargill impacting your life [...]. There are other strong players in everyone of their markets.

Cargill actually owns most of the players on the other markets.

Just recently, the Amazon fires benefited a Cargill branch so much, some think it was all a ploy to plant more soy. Even Nestle (another borderline unethical company, e.g. water rights) announced they will stop buying from Cargill Brazil because of that one. Yet, nobody in south America knows the name Cargill.


> There is really no danger of Cargill impacting your life like one of the big tech companies.

I think that’s a bit odd to say, given another top-level comment noted that COVID-19 outbreaks have happened to TFWs in various meatpacking plants.

Otherwise, I agree with you. They’re not very “cool” as far as a company goes, so they’re not as easy to pay attention to.


I think that’s a bit odd to say, given another top-level comment noted that COVID-19 outbreaks have happened to TFWs in various meatpacking plants.

Not really, the overall impact wasn't as high as some folks like to think. All sorts of places and events had outbreaks including other food producers. For most, its background noise.


> There is really no danger of Cargill impacting your life like one of the big tech companies. There are other strong players in everyone of their markets.

Do you live in the U.S. and ate food today? Chances are Cargill had something to do with it somewhere in the production chain. Yes, they are that big.


I'm aware, but they aren't the biggest player in the game. Food in the US is actually pretty safe, and there are a lot of things statistically more dangerous to people in daily lives.


>Also, realistically and in comparison to other companies, you really have to stretch to call them public enemy one. There is really no danger of Cargill impacting your life like one of the big tech companies. There are other strong players in everyone of their markets.

You can make the same argument for monsanto, but they get a lot of public flak.


Monsanto is a bit more "in your face" than Cargill. In fact, Cargill lost a seed lawsuit that had some deep effects. How they write about it is interesting https://www.cargill.com/history-story/en/SEED-SALE-AND-INTEG...


Except Cargill now owns what used to be Monsanto.


> Except Cargill now owns what used to be Monsanto.

No it doesn't, Bayer owns what used to be Monsanto.

https://www.bayer.com/en/procurement/monsanto-acquisition


My mistake.

For many of the reasons already listed. They're a giant, private, agricultural company that's almost entirely in parts of the supply chain that consumers don't see (B2B), but almost certainly impacts most Americans (and many other parts of the world) every single day.

They're also very low margin, and if you aren't working in farming areas, has a corporate headquarters in a place not too much tech happens in. There's almost no reason for it to ever show up here.

However, if you were awake today and ate food, you probably encountered something Cargill had something to do with.

They also purposely try to keep a relatively low profile.

One of their very first consumer facing products was Truvia, which didn't come out until 2008, for a company founded in the 19th century.


Because their main business is agriculture?


Sorta, but not really https://www.cargill.com/products

It was their main business, but I'm not sure it is anymore.


That still seems like agriculture and agricultural products.


Steel, Salt, Transportation, and all the Finance stuff are big parts of the company. Ag is still a big thing, but I'm not sure if the others don't bring in more money.


ArgriTech is huge.


Correction: "agribusiness".




Guidelines | FAQ | Lists | API | Security | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact

Search: