The Darker Side of Brazilian Ethanol

Reminiscent of Asian child labor scandals of the international shoe and apparel industries, the Brazilian sugarcane-ethanol business gets a black eye in a widely circulated Associated Press story for practicing ‘debt slavery’. Poor laborers, forced to buy food, shelter, clothing from plantation owners at prices far beyond what their wages will support quickly fall so far behind that they can never escape the clutches of the owners. See, for example, the Miami Herald.

The AP article cites estimates of 25000 Brazilians trapped under slave labor conditions (over a third in the sugarcane sector), and of 30000 debt slave being freed by government intervention since 1995.

While the situation likely reflects more on the general conditions of Brazilian agri-industry than on any special virulence of the sugar-ethanol business, it underscores an opportunity for the bio-energy sector to strenghten and polish its image as a leading corporate citizen. Better to be seen as a leader in building a social responsible industry.

“Brazil Slave Labor Complaints Rise”
By BRADLEY BROOKS, Associated Press Writers
April 29, 2009

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