Brazil is the world’s top supplier of orange juice. But accusations abound of exploitation and poor working conditions for laborers. Are the claims true?
“You work whatever the weather – sunshine, rain, cold, extreme heat. It’s physically exhausting. A sack weighs 27 kilos,” says Alfonso. He’s one of at least 50,000 laborers harvesting oranges for juice production every year from May to December in the state of São Paulo. Each worker is expected to carry at least 1.6 tons of the fruit every day. And that takes its toll. Former trade union leader Abel Barreto says workers often suffer illness and other health problems.
Unions and NGOs have been trying for years to address these issues and weed out the bad apples in the industry. Authorities are also active: public prosecutor José Maturana from the Brazilian Labor Ministry conducts spot checks whenever he can. He reports: “Often, workers aren’t officially registered. Their living conditions are precarious, they have no personal protective gear and no place to have a proper meal.” But for many workers, there is no other choice: the orange harvest is the only way to feed their families.
The reportage takes a rare look behind the scenes of the Brazilian juice industry. In conversation with trade unionists, workers, former plantation owners and representatives of the German juice industry, it explores the question: what cost does the production of our orange juice carry?
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