Rainforest Action Network defends Indonesia's people, forests, orangutans, against General Mills, 2010


To convince General Mills to discontinue their contract with Cargill and cease their use of palm oil sourced from recent deforestation sites in the Malaysian and Indonesian rain forests.

Time period

19 January, 2010 to September, 2010


United States

Location City/State/Province

Jump to case narrative


Rainforest Action Network


New York Action Network

External allies

Not known

Involvement of social elites

Not known


General Mills

Nonviolent responses of opponent

None known

Campaigner violence

None known

Repressive Violence

None known





Group characterization

school children and girl scouts

Additional notes on joining/exiting order

Joining order not known

Segment Length

6 weeks

Success in achieving specific demands/goals

6 out of 6 points


1 out of 1 points


2 out of 3 points

Total points

9 out of 10 points

Notes on outcomes

General Mills issued a statement announcing their plan to eliminate use of controversial palm oil by 2015, but their progress towards this goal is unclear.

Database Narrative

Indonesia's people, orangutans, and rainforest are threatened by the widespread planting of trees that produce palm oil for making processed food by giant corporations such as General Foods. 

From 19 January to 30 September 2010, Rainforest Action Network (RAN) campaigned against General Mills sourcing and use of palm oil. General Mills used palm oil as an ingredient in much of their food. Their supplier, Cargill, sourced their palm oil from a company based in Indonesia called Sinar Mas. Sinar Mas was responsible for the deforestation of huge tracts of rainforest in Indonesia, Malaysia and Papua New Guinea. These deforested tracts were then planted for the production of palm oil. While General Mills’ consumption of unsustainable palm oil made up only about one tenth of a percent of the international market, its corporate eminence made it a valuable target for RAN’s campaign.

On 19 January 2010, RAN launched their first major move against General Mills at the company’s headquarters in Minneapolis. Forty-two RAN members spread a 70x30-foot banner reading “Warning! General Mills Destroys Rainforests”. The campaigners sent a helicopter to take aerial photos, which were published on their website along with several articles. Once they accomplished the photo-shoot, the campaigners peacefully left. The photos were distributed to the press, leading to extensive media coverage.    

Updates on RAN's website continued over the next months, but General Mills was not responsive. In April, General Mills released their annual Corporate Social Responsibility Report, which did not emphasize the Palm Oil issue—it appeared only briefly on page 97 of 102.

Meanwhile, RAN prepared for Earth Day. Every year, the organization ran a competition in which elementary school students made posters and slogans promoting sustainability. The theme for 2010’s competition was the use of unsustainable palm oil in popular children’s breakfast cereals, like Cheerios and Lucky Charms, which are distributed by General Mills. On 28 April, RAN arranged for some of the children who created the posters to deliver four hundred of them by hand to General Mills headquarters in Minneapolis. Tom Forsythe, the company’s vice president of communications, met and shook hands with many of the children. Again, professional photography and press coverage ensued.

The next day, 29 April, another group joined in the pursuit of General Mills. New York Action Network sent campaigners to the Edison Awards, which General Mills representatives were attending in honor of a nomination. The campaigners brought a banner that read “General Mills, Stop Delaying, Protect Rainforests”. Rainforest Action Network ran an article on their website congratulating the New York campaigners and publicizing their own action as well.

On 1 May, 150 people organized an event in which professional artists displayed their work on sustainability in a gallery. An example of the kind of work shown is a painting of the famous General Mills Pillsbury Dough Boy walking through a burning rainforest. After the event, the RAN website ran an article. The next day, RAN sent campaigners to the Minneapolis May Day parade with symbolic objects including a fake orangutan, chain saws and dead palm oil trees to raise awareness of the issue and intensify pressure on General Mills.

After the parade, RAN campaigners focused their attention on Cargill, the company from which General Mills bought its controversial palm oil. In December 2009, Greenpeace accused them of unjust environmental practices. In May 2010, several campaigners from RAN locked themselves to a staircase in the Cargill headquarters. In July, Cargill made an attempt to save their image by partnering with the World Wildlife Fund for species preservation. In August, Cargill eventually succumbed to public scrutiny by conducting an investigation of Sinar Mas’ practices in Southeast Asia. On 23 September, the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, which included Cargill as a member, condemned Sinar Mas’ practices, claiming that they violated the industry’s sustainability code.

That same day, RAN sent five young activists from all over the country to stage a protest in Minneapolis outside City Hall. Four dangled from a skyway and another offered support from above. All five were arrested for trespassing. Press coverage ensued and heightened the pressure on General Mills. On 30 September, at the company’s annual shareholders meeting, General Mills’ CEO Ken Powell finally committed to taking action against unsustainable palm oil sourcing. Tom Forsythe, the VP of communications, invited high-ranking RAN members including Ashley Schaeffer into the meeting to present on the palm oil issue. Following the RAN statements, the shareholders drafted a statement that announced General Mills’ intention to use 100% sustainable Palm Oil by 2015. Outside, the meeting, 40 RAN campaigners held up a banner reading, “General Mills Joins Race to Protect Rainforests” and calling on Cargill to “catch up”.


RAN pushed other companies to withdraw from controversial sourcing of Palm Oil following the success of the General Mills Campaign (2)


"Rainforest Action Network Targets General Mills, Cargill Over Palm Oil". Indy Media. Columbus OH, 19 January 2010. http://columbus.indymedia.org/node/34613

"Palm Oil Protest at General Mills". Star Tribune. 20 January 2010. http://www.startribune.com/business/82160837.html?refer=y

"Poster Delivery to General Mills". Flickr. 29 April 2010. http://www.flickr.com/photos/rainforestactionnetwork/sets/72157623832930187/

"NYAN Pressures General Mills During Edison Awards 2010". New York Action Network. 29 April 2010. http://nyactionnetwork.org/news/nyan-pressures-general-mills-during-edison-awards-2010

"General Mills Under National Fire, New York to Minnesota". Rainforest Action Network, Understory. 2 May 2010. http://understory.ran.org/2010/05/02/general-mills-under-national-fire-new-york-to-minnesota/

"Demonstrators dangle from skyway in protest against Cargill". Star Tribune. 23 September 2010. http://www.startribune.com/business/103624319.html?page=2&c=y

"Palm Oil Key Focus at General Mills Shareholder Meeting". Rainforest Action Network, Understory. 30 September 2010. http://understory.ran.org/2010/09/30/palm-oil-key-focus-at-general-mills-shareholder-meeting/

"General Mills Ditches Dirty Palm Oil". Fast Company. 24 September 2010. http://www.fastcompany.com/1690894/general-mills-ditches-dirty-palm-oil
"General Mills Takes Bold Steps Away from Palm Oil Controversy

"General Mills Takes Bold Steps Away from Palm Oil Controversy". Rainforest Action Network. http://ran.org/general-mills-takes-bold-steps-away-palm-oil-controversy

Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy

Lydia Bailey 09/02/2013