Bacardi should take the next step to tackle kidney disease CKDnT

1 September 2015

Access to clean drinking water, more breaks, more shade and better working equipment. These are the simple solutions to prevent even more workers on Central American sugarcane plantations from dying of Chronic Kidney Disease of non-traditional causes (CKDnT). If it is this simple, why is Bacardi – a big importer of sugarcane products like sugarcane-based pure alcohol for their rum from Central America – not implementing these solutions immediately and why is it not responding to our call to make a change and save lives in their sugarcane supply chains?

Last July, Fairfood International, CNV Internationaal and the Central American Institute for Social Studies ICAES released the report Give them a Break, in which we revealed how easy it would be for Bacardi to significantly improve working conditions in the Central American sugarcane industry, thus preventing new cases of CKDnT. Bacardi chose not to engage further after sending one response in a public conversation on Business Human Rights & Resource Center (BHRRC).

Bacardi can make a change

Bacardi has taken some steps to improve working conditions and lower its impact on the environment. The rum company has committed to sourcing 100% of its sugarcane-derived products sustainably by 2022 and it is a lead partner in the Bonsucro certification scheme. These are good first steps, but both Fairfood and Bacardi are also aware that these certifications have not been the solution to ending CKDnT.

Bacardi can make a real change and be the frontrunner in taking the next step: tackling CKDnT to save the lives of sugarcane workers.

Bacardi sources its sugar from Guatemala

Bacardi admits that they have a direct relationship with two sugarcane mills in Guatemala, for sugarcane-based pure alcohol, not sugarcane. As CKDnT is related to the working conditions of those harvesting the crop, it doesn’t matter which sugarcane product they consider. What matters is that simple solutions need to be put in place to help prevent new cases and prevent sick workers from getting even sicker.

Having a direct relationship with two sugarcane mills puts Bacardi in the ideal position to pilot schemes that can really make a difference to the workers. Fairfood is asking that Bacardi continues to show real leadership by working with these two sugarcane mills to pilot solution schemes, which could become a benchmark for good practice throughout the sugarcane industry. It takes one brand to lead the way in creating industry-wide change. Bacardi can play that role.

What are the solutions?

CKDnT is primarily caused by working too hard in tropical climates, leading to dehydration and heat stress. While it is not possible to change the ideal location for growing sugarcane, it is possible to ensure some simple steps to help reduce putting too much strain on the bodies and kidneys of the sugarcane cutters. The solutions are so simple, but their importance cannot be overlooked.

In order to be less vulnerable to CKDnT caused by their working conditions, the sugarcane cutters need:

  • access to unlimited clean drinking water;
  • access to shade;
  • regular breaks;
  • shorter working hours and less physical strain.

Solution Photo OSH

The first three of these solutions are taken for granted by millions of workers across the globe. They should be an inalienable right, but they are not.

In our report, Give Them a Break, we show that sugarcane cutters have to bring their own water which is too little for a full day of work, that they don’t get breaks during which they can rest in the shade which is putting a great strain on their kidneys. If so many people across the globe don’t even have to think about this, why are plantation workers not entitled to the same conditions?

La Isla Foundation and Solidarid have developed a smarter way of working, with more efficient cutting patterns and tools (the We Program). By implementing this way of working, not only will working conditions improve, but productivity can also be increased, by as much as 40%. In this way, there is no adverse effect on the productivity of the workers.

So, given their previous leadership, and the opportunities presented through their work in Guatemala, the question is, when the solutions are so easy, why doesn’t Bacardi set the next industry standard?

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