Harsh working conditions on Nicaraguan sugarcane plantations unacceptable

3 June 2014

This year’s sugar produced in Nicaragua has most likely been harvested by workers who are not paid enough, endure long working hours and lack enough access to shade and water. These are the results from Fairfood International’s issue briefing ‘Working Conditions in Central American Sugarcane Industry.

On average, workers receive half what is needed to cover their basic expenses.  The majority of sugarcane cutters reported they were paid per ton of cane they cut. This type of payment incentivises long working days, which can sometimes increase to more than 12 hours a day seven days a week during the harvest time or ‘zafra’ – far more than international agreements on fair working conditions and ILO regulations would allow.  Despite long work days, the research indicates that many workers surveyed are permitted to take only one or two breaks a day, depending on their employer. Moreover, they only have access to shade during their lunch breaks.

‘Treat them Sweet’ project for fair working conditions and fair wages

Fairfood International considers these issues sufficiently grave to be unacceptable. In order to improve the situation for Nicaraguan sugarcane workers, Fairfood is launching the Treat them Sweet project that aims to help and encourage companies at all stages in the sugarcane supply chain to adopt and implement policies and practices that ensure fair wages, reasonable working hours and sufficient access to shade and water for all workers. “We will engage with companies at all levels of the supply chain to determine how best to address these issues and work collaboratively to create positive change”, said Hana Ivanhoe, corporate engagement manager of the project.

Scientific base

The issue briefing draws primarily from the report ‘Sugarcane from Nicaragua’, written by Prof. P. Hoebink, from the Centre for International Development Issues Nijmegen. In his report, Hoebink conducts a comparative analysis of literature and field research findings on working conditions and occupational health hazards in the sugarcane industry in Nicaragua.  “Surveys carried out in 2005 and 2013 indicate that sugar workers still suffer poor labour conditions in Nicaragua,” states the report. “Companies producing sugar should take corporate social responsibility seriously and take more responsibility for their workers”.

About Fairfood International

Fairfood International is an international non-profit organisation. It is Fairfood’s mission to improve the socio-economic conditions of vulnerable people, such as smallholder farmers, workers (especially women) and consumers in our food system and to ensure the sustainable production and consumption of food, by influencing the policies and practices of global food and beverage companies and governments.