Repórter Brasil’s publication “From Brazilian Farms to European Tables – Socio-Environmental Impacts and Labor Violations in Brazil-EU Agricultural Supply Chains (Beef, Orange, Coffee and Cocoa)” is a contribution to the international campaign Our Food, Our Future, to begin in September 2021.
The action seeks to mobilize young people across Europe for a socially just and sustainable food system based on human rights, agroecology and food sovereignty. It is led by an international coalition of civil society organizations, which includes Repórter Brasil and is coordinated by Germany’s Christliche Initiative Romero (CIR).
The campaign for ethical eating for the next generation will demand responsibility from food corporations and supermarket chains over human and labor rights violations, environmental destruction, as well as land grabbing and forced displacement in their supply chains.
It seeks to sensitize European youth to put pressure on their politicians to pass laws compelling these companies to improve their trade practices and monitor all stages of their supply chains. In other words, to take measures that guarantee workers’ rights, especially for migrants and women, and help reduce climate change, hunger and poverty.
Social, environmental and labor impacts
The report gathers data on social, environmental and labor impacts caused by the supply chains of four products: beef, orange, coffee and cocoa. The study reveals that producers and companies in these sectors are linked to serious problems in Brazil, such as deforestation of native forests and exploitation of slave labor, in addition to contributing to chronic impoverishment and conflicts in rural areas.
Highlighting the most relevant data for the European context, this report compiles and updates research on supply chains carried out systematically over the years by Repórter Brasil and outlines an overview of these problems. Since 2001, the organization has mapped and investigated social, labor and environmental issues, exposing trade relations and demanding improvement in production processes.
At least three of the four agricultural export products addressed in this report appear prominently on the list of Brazilian exports to European Union countries in 2020 (US$ 28.3 billion): unroasted coffee (8.9%); fruit or vegetable juices (3.5%); and beef, which is part of the group “Other products – processing industry” (2.7%). In 2020, the EU accounted for 16.87% (US$ 28.3 billion) of Brazil’s export basket – second only to China.
According to the report, 65% of deforested areas in the Amazon are covered by pastures. From 1978 to 2018, cattle multiplied by ten in the region – from 8.4 to 87 million head. From 1975 to 2017, Brazil’s meat production as a whole increased by 642%.
A study focused only on livestock revealed that about 17% of all beef exported by Brazil (Amazon and Cerrado) to the EU in 2017 was directly “contaminated” by potentially illegal deforestation in both biomes. Considering the possibility of indirect “contamination,” the percentage of meat with issues may rise to 48%.
Recent studies also shows that the Brazilian livestock industry alone accounted for one fifth of the total carbon dioxide (CO₂) emissions resulting from deforestation that occurred in all tropical areas of the world.
In addition to the environmental impacts, 51% of slave labor cases found in Brazil from early 1995 to October 2020 took place in the livestock sector. In these 1,950 cases, 17,253 people were freed in livestock – or 31% of all workers rescued.
According to the leaders of Brazil’s orange juice exporting industry, represented by CitrusBR – which is based on the three major companies in the sector, Cutrale, Citrosuco and Louis Dreyfus Company (LDC) – three out of every five glasses of orange juice drank in the world came from Brazilian groves. Indeed, orange juice is the most widely consumed fruit-based drink in the world (about 35% of all juices) and Europe is by far the largest market (about two thirds) for this export-directed production.
The publication also shows that the orange supply chain uses migrant labor often coming from remote areas and hired on a per-season basis to harvest fruit during workdays of intense physical effort, under precarious conditions, in exchange for low pay, sometimes even below the minimum wage.
Two examples found by Repórter Brasil – one in 2020 involving a Citrosuco supplier and another one in 2019, of a farm supplying Cutrale, the largest company in the sector – illustrate the painful and inhumane life in the groves, which includes exploitation of slave labor.
Another very relevant piece of statistical data is that orange workers and small producers get less than 5% of the prices of those exports on supermarket shelves of rich consumer countries.
Coffee and cocoa
As for coffee, in addition to being the largest producer and exporter, Brazil holds about 27% of the product’s global market. From January to November 2020, EU member countries that are among the ten top consumers of Brazilian coffee (Germany, Belgium, Italy and Spain) purchased 34.7% of the total – almost twice the US, which is the top single consumer (18.2%).
Similarly to orange, coffee plantations are pesticide-intensive. In addition, from early 2017 until the end of 2020, 466 people were freed from slave-like conditions in coffee areas.
As for the cocoa supply chain, the report explains that production decentralized as family properties is one of the factors complicating law enforcement in the sector. In subordination relationships disguised as “partnerships,” intermediaries or processing companies put pressure on families that even resort to their children to meet the demands.