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BRAZIL
Ethanol slaves
Latinamerica Press
8/7/2008
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Biofuel industry hires workers under slave-like conditions and damages the environment.

The Labor Ministry’s Special Mobile Inspection Unit says workers on sugarcane plantations are exposed to slave-like conditions.

In late June, officials there said that “the worst work conditions registered in sugarcane production in 2008 were in the Piracicaba zone [in the São Paulo state] where the COSAN group [sugar and ethanol production giant] works.”
The company — financed by Brazilian capital and associated with various European and Asian companies — is one of the leading producers of sugarcane ethanol in the world. The COSAN group has 16 refineries, two sugarcane refineries and two port terminals in Brazil.

The inspection found that workers are transported in unsafe transportation and that cutting areas have “no adequate bathrooms, tables, chairs or equipment.” Additionally, foremen humiliate and overburden the poorly paid workers.
Officials also indicated that the company hires the workers through intermediary companies for “exhaustive workdays.”

“These workers’ pay is between 500 and 600 reals [US$312 and $375] monthly, from which rent and other expenses are discounted,” they said.

But COSAN is not the only company of this kind. More than 100 workers were recently found in slave-like conditions with ethanol producing companies in the Alagoas and Mato Grosso states.

Apart from exploiting workers, ethanol-producing companies have also been damaging the environment, officials said. On July 1 Brazilian authorities announced they would apply harsh sanctions to 24 companies for operating without licenses and destroying the Atlantic Forest, one of the world’s most threatened tropical forests.

These companies have been forced to pay fines amounting to 120 million reals ($75 million) for environmental crimes and to restore 85,000 hectares (210,000 acres) of forests diminished by sugarcane plantations in protected zones. Brazilian laws require 20 percent of native forests to be preserved.
—Latinamerica Press.


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