‘Sustainable’ coffee is denounced for slave labor – 03/14/2023 – Market
Coffee packets draw attention to their beauty on the sites where they are sold on the internet. Product names include words like “gourmet”, “premium” and “special”. The price is much higher than the brands found in any supermarket, reaching R$ 112 per kilo. Behind all this, however, work analogous to slavery, points out the MTE (Ministry of Labor and Employment).
An inspection by the Ministry’s Gmóvel (Special Mobile Inspection Group) rescued seven workers in the last coffee harvest in Minas Gerais, in July last year, -three women and four men- in conditions analogous to slavery on a property belonging to the company Fazendas Klem Import and Export of Coffee in Manhumirim, in Zona da Mata, in Minas Gerais.
The report contacted Fazendas Klem by telephone and received a request to send an email with questions about MTE inspection of the property. The message was sent on Monday (13) at 3:59 pm, but there was no response until 12:00 this Tuesday.
During a hearing at the Ministry of Labor and Employment in the regional department in Manhuaçu, after the workers were rescued, the owner of Fazendas Klem, Cesar Viana Klem, who on a social network presented himself as “terribly Christian”, made all payments due to rescued workers, who returned to Bahia.
In a publication on the 7th, however, when commenting on the arrest of the leader of the FNL (Frente Nacional de Lutas Campo e Cidades), José Rainha, in Pontal do Paranapanema, the owner of Fazendas Klem wrote the following text: “We had our property ‘invaded’ by ‘supposed workers’, who have created a narrative of ‘slave-like work’ that is leading us to bankruptcy. If nothing is done to help the farmer, this left will destroy Brazilian agribusiness”!!!! !!!
Fazendas Klem was part of a select group of coffee producers in Brazil that bears the Rainforest Alliance seal, an NGO (Non-Governmental Organization) operating worldwide that attests to the sustainability of agricultural producers.
The organization’s website states that its seal “means that the product (or a specific ingredient) was produced by farmers, foresters, and/or companies working together to create a world where people and nature thrive in harmony.”
The Rainforest Alliance informed that the company Fazendas Klein no longer has the certification.
Testimonies of the seven male and female workers to GMóvel inspectors, to which Folha had access, show the precarious situation they went through on the property. All are from Caetanos, in the center-south region of Bahia. The group arrived in Manhumirim at dawn on June 20, 2022, after disembarking in Realeza, a district of the neighboring city of Manhuaçu.
A farm car, as they reported, picked them up in Realeza, a district of the neighboring city of Manhuaçu, 774 kilometers from Caetanos. In their testimonies, the workers claim that the decision to leave for Manhumirim came after a video that circulated among rural workers in the municipality showing a farm with many coffee trees to be harvested.
The property would be the one they headed for. However, when they arrived, they noticed that not so much coffee was ready to be harvested. One of the rural workers said he arranged to go to the farm with a man who introduced himself as Gimailson “at the behest of Klem Farms”, as he told the inspectors. One of the questions asked in the email sent to Fazendas Klem was about the role of the man mentioned by the workers on the property.
Another rescued farmer said that the farm shown was in a flat area, unlike the one they headed for, which was on steep terrain. The report by the GMóvel inspectors speaks, based on the testimonies and the inspection carried out on the property, in a toilet without flushing, sewage running in the open near the house where they were placed, lack of supply of tools, protection material and shelter for food when they were on the farm.
“The workers lived in precarious accommodation on the farm itself, with doors with cracks, not fully lined and vulnerable windows, sanitary facilities in precarious conditions, without toilet paper and drying material”, points out the inspection report, based on testimonies and in the inspections they made on the farm.
“The house was completely dirty; bedding was not provided, there was no place to take meals, there was no laundry room to clean clothes and personal objects. cleanliness, hygiene and safety”, points out the report.
The inspectors also found that the workers did not undergo an admission medical examination and that in the period between the farmers starting work on the farm, on June 21, and July 6, the day the inspection began, there was no payment of wages.
The national coordinator of Gmóvel at the Ministry of Labor and Employment, Maurício Krepsky, says that, according to the group’s operating rules, it is not allowed to reveal how the complaint against Klem Farms reached the ministry. “The group acts based on denouncements and also through inspections carried out without any previous announcement”, he says.
“The situation of the workers was completely neglected”, says the group’s national coordinator. Due to the conditions in which the seven male and female workers were found, Klem Farms were fined BRL 13,000 per rescued farmer.
There were, in all, 15 notices of infraction, each with a fine that can vary from R$ 400 to R$ 20 thousand, according to Krepsky.
A situation similar to that of farmers in Manhumirim happened again this year, in Rio Grande do Sul. Workers in conditions analogous to slavery were also rescued in wineries in the state.