Currently the second largest privately owned company in the United States (behind Koch Industries), Cargill declared revenues of $120 billion USD, and earnings of $3.64 billion USD in the 2008 fiscal year. Employing over 158,000 employees at 1,100 locations in 66 countries, it is responsible for 25 percent of all United States grain exports. The company also supplies approximately 22 percent of the United States domestic meat market, exporting more product from Argentina than any other company and is the largest poultry producer in Thailand. All of the eggs used in McDonald's restaurants in the United States pass through Cargill's plants. It is the only producer of Alberger process salt in the U.S.A., which is highly prized in the fast and prepared food industries. It operates a unique (and antique) plant in St. Clair in the Thumb of Michigan.
Despite its size, the corporation is still a family owned business; descendants of the founder (from the Cargill and MacMillan families) own about 85% of the company. This means that most of its growth has been due to reinvestment of the company's own earnings, rather than public financing. Greg Page is the chief executive officer of Cargill who succeeded Warren Staley in mid 2007.
John Sr. ran the company until his retirement in 1936. Under his leadership Cargill grew several fold, expanding out of the Midwest by opening its first East coast offices in New York in 1923 and first Canadian, European and Latin American office in 1928, 1929 and 1930. During this time Cargill saw both record profits and major cash crunches. The first of these crisis was the debt left by the death of W.W. The company issued $2.25 million in Gold Notes, back by Cargill stock to pay off its creditors. The Gold Notes were due in 1917. But thanks for record grain prices caused by World War I all debts were payed back in 1915. As World War I continued into 1917 Cargill made record earning and faced criticisms of war profiteering. Four years later as a fall out from the financial crash of 1920 Cargill posts its first loss.
One of the company's biggest criticisms has been its perceived arrogance. The MacMillans' aggressive management style lead to a decades long feud with the Chicago Board of Trade. The feud began in 1934 when Cargill was denied membership by the Board. The U.S. government over turned the Board's ruling and force them to accept Cargill as member. The 1936 corn corp failed and with the 1937 crop unavailable until October, the Chicago Board of Trade ordered Cargill to sell some of its corn. Cargill refused to comply. Cargill was then accused of trying to corner the corn market by the U.S. Commodity Exchange Authority and Chicago Board of Trade. In 1938 the Chicago Board of Trade suspended Cargill and three of its officers trading floor. When the Board lifted its suspension a few years later Cargill refused to rejoin. Cargill instead traded through independent traders. In 1962 Cargill did rejoin the Chicago Board of Trade, two years after the death of John Jr.
Cargill's quarterly profits crossed $1 billion for the first time during the quarter ending on February 29, 2008 ($1.03 billion); the 86% rise was credited to global food shortages and the expanding biofuels industry that in turn caused a rise in demand for Cargill's core areas of agricultural commodities and technology.
Cargill's long-term business strategy is to shift its business from trading and processing large volumes of agricultural commodities, to higher margin activities. One of them is the research and development of advanced processing techniques, particularly at its plant in Eddyville, Iowa. For example, in a joint venture with Hoffman-LaRoche, it has developed a process for converting a waste by-product of soybean oil refining into vitamin E. It also produces fuel-grade ethanol, citric acid, and phytosterol esters from grain. The company intends to work as consultants for its customers to create new ingredients and new food processing methods.
The Environmental Justice Foundation named Cargill as a major buyer of Uzbek cotton, which is produced widely using uncompensated workers and is implicated in human rights abuses. Cargill claims to have no knowledge of misconduct in either case.
Cargill's supposed policy of only dealing with ethical companies has also been called into question recently after its biggest UK Customer of Oils and Fats, KTC, was discovered to have had 34 illegal immigrants working for them and living in appalling conditions.
In the U.S., anti-GMO activists object to Cargill's marketing of genetically modified (GMO) seeds.
Cargill has been criticized for using contract labor rather than maintaining regular employees. Cargill outsourced a small portion of their information technology operations to Electronic Data Systems or EDS in 2007.
In 2003, Cargill completed a port for processing soya in Santarém in the Amazon region of Brazil. The port dramatically increased soya production in the area due to the proximity of easy transport and processing facilities. Although Cargill complied with state legislation, they failed to comply with a federal law requiring an Environmental Impact Statement. In late 2003 Greenpeace launched a campaign claiming the new port sped up deforestation of local rain forest as farmers have cleared land to make way for crops.
In February 2006, the federal courts in Brazil gave Cargill six months to complete an environmental assessment (EA), different from an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). This ruling came as part of a broader popular backlash against the port; while it was initially supported by locals who hoped for jobs, opinion has turned against it as the jobs have not appeared. In July 2006, federal prosecutor Felicia Pontes Jr. suggested they were close to shutting down the port.
Cargill responded to criticisms of the port by focusing on the need for economic development for the local province, one of the poorest in Brazil. They claimed that "extreme measures" such as closing the port are not necessary because "Soy occupies less than 0.6 percent of the land in the Amazon biome today." They also pointed to their partnership with The Nature Conservancy to encourage farmers around Santarém to comply with Brazilian law that requires 80% of forest to be left intact in forest areas.
In April 2006, Greenpeace released another report criticising Cargill's report for its alleged role in deforestation of the Amazon. The report traced animal feed made from Amazonian soya to European food retailers who bought chicken and other meat raised on the feed. Greenpeace took its campaign to these major food retailers and quickly won agreement from McDonalds along with UK-retailers Asda, Waitrose and Marks & Spencer to stop buying meat raised on Amazonian soya. These retailers in turn put pressure on Cargill and Archer Daniels Midland, Bunge, André Maggi Group and Dreyfus to prove their soya was not grown on recently deforested land in the Amazon.
In July 2006, the Star Tribune newspaper of Minneapolis reported that Cargill had joined other soy businesses in Brazil in enacting a two-year moratorium on the purchase of soybeans from newly deforested land
In addition to the criticisms of Cargill lanced in the public lawsuits by the Promotor Publico on behalf of the Ministerio Publico Federal of Brazil, it was stated that Cargill also violated Brazilian law about the preservation of archaeological sites. The city of Santarem and its Port is one of the larger archaeological sites in Brazil, apparently the center of an expansive late prehistoric culture named after the city. According to the suits, the company did not comply with Brazilian law about the necessity of obtaining an archaeological impact statement and any subsequent necessary protection or salvage of archaeological deposits when it excavated a large area of the Santarem Port site to place some of its soy storage building near the shore.
Cargill has denied that there was any archaeological deposit where it excavated for the foundation of its building but archaeologists working at Santarem under Brazilian government authorizations have reported and photographed archaeological deposits at that site in various years.
The company is also facing its first-ever markets campaign, as the activist group Rainforest Action Network is pressuring Cargill to stop expanding into tropical ecosystems to grow soy and palm oil.