It was an unusual group to be sharing a small boat making its way up the Amazon River.

There were four environmental activists from Greenpeace — Brazilians and others who flew in from Europe for the trip. And there were four corporate leaders of McDonald’s, the world’s largest fast-food chain, from its Chicago headquarters and from Europe.

The eight were in the rainforest together on a mission to see firsthand where farmers were cutting down virgin forest to grow soy beans for, among other customers, McDonald’s. And though Greenpeace had not long ago been accusing McDonald’s of complicity in the deforestation, by the time of the Amazon trip in January, the eight officials were calling each other partners.

Those weren’t just words. The ubiquitous fast-food company and the global environmentalists had already jointly pressured the biggest soy traders in Brazil into placing an unprecedented two-year moratorium on the purchase of any soy from newly deforested areas.

Officials at Cargill, the huge multinational company that supplied McDonald’s with Brazilian soy for chicken feed and ultimately pushed fellow soy traders to accept the moratorium, confirmed that the odd couple of McDonald’s and Greenpeace made it happen.

“McDonald’s and, yes, Greenpeace, were the catalysts,” said Laurie Johnson, a spokeswoman for Cargill. “They brought together a wide range of people and created a sense of real urgency.”

The tale of how the two heavyweights came together reflects the complexities, pressures and ironies of the globalized economy. It also illustrates how once-unthinkable partnerships can become forces for addressing environmental and social problems that governments cannot handle.

With Brazilian soy, the problem at least partially grew out of an unrelated dispute over genetically modified food products.

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