New report on child labour in Nicaraguan sugarcane industry

21 April 2015

La Isla Foundation (LIF), our partner in Nicaragua, published a report yesterday that examines the use of child labour at Ingenio San Antonio (ISA), the largest sugar plantation and production company in Nicaragua. The report entitled ‘Cycle of Sickness’ details the harsh working conditions that affect the physical and psychological health of child labourers. These conditions include a hostile work environment, deprivation of water, rest and shade, and lack of access to medical care. These and other work practices highlighted in the report are possibly increasing these workers’ risk of developing Chronic Kidney Disease of non-traditional causes (CKDnT), a deadly degenerative kidney condition that has grown to epidemic prevalence in Central America.

The report is based on interviews conducted by LIF personnel with 26 current and former ISA sugarcane workers ranging from 12 to 17 years old. In previous LIF studies, adult workers afflicted with CKDnT discussed having worked for ISA as children, prompting the following study, which seeks to establish a better understanding of the severity of the child labour issue and the types of challenges faced by underage workers.

The report weaves workers’ testimonies together with interpretations of relevant legal and social frameworks. The resulting analysis finds that these testimonies indicate ISA’s noncompliance with domestic and international labour laws as well as the failure of the Nicaraguan government to adequately enforce those laws protecting minors. 

On the basis of its research findings, LIF makes recommendations to the Nicaraguan sugarcane industry and government, as well as sugar buyers, urging all stakeholders to take those steps necessary to eradicate harmful forms of child labour. Since sugarcane workers are the most affected by CKDnT, LIF continues its call for action to address illegal working conditions which drive the development of this disease while further research continues across medical, legal and scientific fields.

In collaboration with its domestic and international partners – including Fairfood International – LIF continues to facilitate and implement multidisciplinary projects to reverse the rising prevalence of CKDnT and mitigate the impact of the disease on affected communities. One of these projects is the Worker Health and Efficiency Program (WE Program), which is currently underway in El Salvador and has good prospects of being rolled out in Costa Rica too.

Click here to read the full report