The production and sale of oranges is worth millions of dollars worldwide.
A recent study called SQUEEZE OUT has analysed the entire orange juice supply chain from production in Brazil to European supermarkets. This is the supply chain of orange juice from concentrate.
There are only three firms exporting orange juice to the rest of the world: Cutrale, Citrosuco and Luis Dreyfus. They effectively control the global market, supplying over 50% of the world's orange juice. They also have enormous market power in price negotiations, exerting significant control over orange producers and regularly pushing prices lower than the cost of production. The study shows that competition between these companies comes at a high cost to human life and the environment - as will be explained shortly.
Europe is an important export market for these companies and those importing orange juice from these supply chains are equally powerless. A key strategy used by supermarkets is to have their own in-store brands; rather than buying and selling independent brands, supermarkets source and sell their own products. 66% of all orange juice is sold as a supermarket own-brand product. Therefore, a lot of supermarkets in the UK are directly or indirectly influencing the conditions of millions of workers worldwide and contributing to environmental devastation.
It is worrying that we, as consumers, aren't made aware that these famously cheap brands come at a higher cost in terms of human life.
Human Rights Violations
Workers at these companies bear the brunt of the ruthless competition between multinational corporations, as their work is physically demanding, poorly paid and they lack legal protection.
The competition between companies has led to setting unrealistic targets for workers. One worker interviewed by SQUEEZE OUT, for example, stated, "You are under 24-hour pressure and control." If a worker makes a mistake or misses work too often because they feel unwell, they are punished with a salary reduction.
These workers have no way of leaving the plantation because they are indebted to the plantation, which provides them transportation, accommodation and food. One worker said, "If you would like to leave, then you have to pay 300 reals". 300 Brazilian Reals is equivalent to £53. For workers who get paid minimum wage, that is not a small amount of money to give. And even if they could borrow the money, they would have to pay it back with high interest.
Furthermore, in July 2015, it was reported that workers on Cutrale's plantations had not been paid for several weeks. How can workers fight for their rights by leaving when they haven't been paid and don't have money for the bus ride back home? If they complain, they run the risk of being dismissed - adding further to the problem.
Chemicals are also often sprayed whilst the workers are harvesting in the fields, causing allergic reactions and other health problems. One worker said, "We have to go out into the fields immediately after pesticide spraying". Since 2007, accidents related to pesticide use have risen by 67% and the official death toll has risen from 132 to 206. The SQUEEZE OUT study reports that eight women on a Citrosuco plantation were taken to hospital suffering from pesticide poisoning.
In addition to this, women fall victim to constant psychological, physical and sexual attacks. Long working hours means that female workers with children suffer in particular. The plantations simply say that if you don't work, you don't get paid. This prevents mothers taking their children to doctor's appointments or attending school events. One woman even reported that her boss asked her on many occasions which was more important to her: her job or her child.
According to lawyer, Marcio Propheta Sormani Bortolucci, "There is no respect for human rights. Workers who bring in the harvest for these companies are not chained up as slaves once were. Different means are used to keep them captive."
Oranges require the most pesticides per hectare of all export-crops grown in Brazil. Pesticide retail is thus a big business in Brazil; in 2009, 30,000 tons of pesticides were used in the Brazilian citrus sector at a total cost of 201 million reals. The SQUEEZE OUT study reports that the pesticides used were particularly poisonous and many countries have banned them for environmental reasons. This includes flufenoxuron, which is not permitted in the EU because it can harm breast-fed children, and Paraquat dichloride, which is also banned in the EU because inhalation is dangerous and it damages fertility.
What Can We Do To Help?
Many of us question why certain products are so expensive, but none of us really consider why some products are so cheap. The SQUEEZE OUT study, however, shows us how/why store brands are so cheap and the real cost of this.
We all have our part to play in addressing this; as consumers have considerable power and influence in that we choose what we buy! By being more conscious about what we buy and choosing brands that are fairer and environmentally-friendly, we can therefore help make a change (however small it might be).
I really believe that, if we all collectively invest in fairer products, we can put pressure on the supermarkets to make their products fairer and more ethical!
For more information, please see report below: