A coffee plantation: reserve side, observe side

A call that could pass for a bird's cry resounds from time to time in the background of a plot. Farm workers, who cannot see each other when they move away a little from each other, hidden by the leaves of coffee trees, have adopted this rallying cry.

 

Guided, the IIECL team meets up with ten men spreading at the foot of eachshrub fertilizer powder. In the cool of early dawn, they are hardly protected from dew bathing the leaves through trash bags transformed into makeshiftprotection.

 

Two days before, at 6 am, plantation’s management presented to HRWB and IIECL the starting work of the different teams designed to pick berries, spread fertilizers or pesticides, cut the creeper stifling coffee tree. HRWB and IIECL teams observe, question, tirelessly cross checksinformation.

 

Visiting the locals of chemicals, of tools, of work clothes supplied, enables Diane Mull (IIECL) to note the harmfulness of products, learn about the staff handling them to ensure that the protections provided areadequate...

 

Martine Combemale (HRWB), for its part, makes inquiries from farm workers about work hours, their salary (to the basket, to the bag, paid to each person orto the leader of the group, of a family, overtime). She will later cross check this information with the accountingdepartment.

 

Another member of IIECL attends at the departure of the team in charge that morning of fertilizer application. Yellow raincoats cover men from head to feet, boots, and gloves ... All safety standards aremet.

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Unworthy life and workconditions

Two days later, popular idea is chipped: member of the team make a discovery at the bottom of the valley, temporary workers, tell, indeed, another story. Suffering from cold in their t-shirt wetted by the dew, bare hands, equipped with a cup, men draw in bags of fertilizer that sticks to their moist skin. « Often my wrist is scratched », complains Augusto.

Yet, two of them, wear yellow raincoats: “It is permanent workers who offer us this yellow raincoat instead of throwing them away”, they say laughing, showing coarse seams hiding tears. “Temporary workers” are not provided these protections.

Elsewhere, other farm workers are caught preparing an insecticide before treating a parcel. The man in charge of this operation works with his bare hands, and doesn’t hesitate to plunge them into the liquid when the spatula falls into it.

Regarding the accommodation, it is provided by the company. During the guided tour, the management had presented a “camp” where about ten families live. A long cinder block building, ground floor, painted an ocher color, in the middle of a green meadow. On the facades length, the doors of each house: one room per family. Inside, low slopes, sometimes covered in cardboard to insulate from the cold, serve as beds. The walls and floor are gray: the color of the cement.

At one end of the building, showers, at the other, rundown homes used for cooking, made over a wood fire or a gasstove.

A little further, washrooms consisting of a seat resembling a wellcurbstone.

Spartan facilities but clean and quite common for this type of operation. Running water in public places,electricity…

Another “camp” discovered later by HRWB-IIECL teams will show another reality. Located near the river crossing, the exploitation, the buildings are made of concrete blocks and corrugatediron.

Each one room house is at the best in half light: the openings are tiny, night falls around 6:00 p.m. and there is no electricity. Furthermore, running water is often disconnected and unsafe water must be fetched from the river. Finally, children wade on ground that is often muddy, the camp is located at the bottom of the valley. And the rain falls in the single room through the corrugated iron.

Exhuming the hiddenside

“This mission, assures Martine Combemale and Diane Mull, is quite similar to what we found in agriculture in developing countries: on one visible side, satisfactory for an auditor making a superficial work. And in other, the hidden side, where forced and child labor, abusive working conditions, are real.”

“Only studies of depth can allow detecting these issues because the systems in place to check for breaches of social responsibility are often ineffective”, they  noted.

The position displayed by the company is just wishful thinking and does not allow reducing the risk of childlabor. Thus, in this case, the plantation displays in its "values" "defense of children's rights," "respect for the dignity of work”.

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