In the midst of the pandemic, Cutrale fires pregnant employees and suspends meal vouchers

After benefits were cut, workers in one of the world’s largest orange juice industries saw their earnings drop by 30%. They also report lack of protective equipment and cases of illegal search
By Poliana Dallabrida

End of meal vouchers and paid commuting hours, lack of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), illegal searches, and pregnant women fired: working conditions among seasonal harvest employees at Cutrale – one of the world’s leading orange producers – get worse with each harvest, according to workers from the company’s farms heard by Repórter Brasil.

In 2020, Cutrale suspended meal vouchers, which provided a R$ 240.00 increase in orange pickers’ earnings. In addition, temporary employees hired to work from May to February are no longer paid for the time they spend traveling to and from the farms. Brazil’s 2017 labour reform cancelled what used to be a mandatory benefit.

Daniel,* 52 years old, has been working for three years at Cutrale’s farms in the Araraquara, SP, area. In this year’s harvest, he reports having been paid R$ 1,300.00 reais a month on average – just R$ 200.00 above the national minimum wage. The previous harvest, however, was even worse for workers interviewed by Repórter Brasil.

Thirty-year-old Maria* reports having worked at Cutrale for nine months between 2019 and 2020. In addition to monthly wages, she was paid around R$ 150.00 at the end of her employment contract. At the time, Cutrale had changed its method for hiring seasonal workers, who now have temporary employment contracts that do not include benefits such as unemployment insurance.

With the change in the company’s hiring policy, without meal vouchers and paid commuting time, Maria’s monthly earnings did not exceed R$ 1,200.00 – it took her about one hour and a half to get from home to the company’s orange fields.

“We worked and got nothing when we left,” Daniel explains. “We didn’t get [unemployment] insurance or the 40% fine over our Time of Service fund. Meal vouchers were also cut. This year, the contract is normal but does not include the R$ 240.00 voucher.”

“If they paid for the meal vouchers and commuting time, employees’ monthly earnings would be around R$ 1,800.00,” explains Aparecido Bispo, education secretary of the São Paulo State Federation of Rural Wage Workers (Feraesp). In other words, harvest workers saw their earnings drop by approximately 30%.

Cutrale is one of the world’s largest producers of orange juice. It has five factories and dozens of farms in Brazil, as well as industrial operations in the United States. It is the largest orange juice supplier to Coca-Cola – which, in turn, owns orange beverage brands sold by the world’s main supermarkets and large fast-food chains such as McDonald’s and Burger King.

Contacted by Repórter Brasil, Cutrale did not comment on the problems reported by the workers.

“A company that is so rich but won’t even provide PPE for its workers?”

While rights such as meal vouchers and paid commuting time ceased to be guaranteed after recent changes in Brazilian labour legislation, lack of PPE and toilets in the fields, and dismissal of female harvest workers after they report they are pregnant are still against the law.

The workers report that, Cutrale’s farms in at least three municipalities in the Araraquara area do not provide enough PPE for everyone, and there are no proper sizes. Daniel and Maria used to work with 30 other workers overseen by group supervisors known as “turmeiros,” who were in charge of recruiting them, providing transportation and overseeing the weighing of the oranges harvested by each worker.

“We ask for PPE and the supervisor won’t give it; he says he doesn’t have it. I told him once: ‘A company that is so rich but won’t even provide PPE for its workers?,’” Daniel recalls. He claims that only boots and leg protections were provided, and workers had to buy other items such as gloves and hats.

The average income of a Cutrale’s seasonal harvest worker is R$1,300; three years ago, this amount reached R$1,800. (Photo: Marcos Weiske/Repórter Brasil)

“Sometimes we’d talk to the people in charge of the farm about the lack of PPE, but it didn’t help. Nothing happened,” Maria adds, while also reporting lack of toilets at the fields: “I had to relieve myself among the orange trees.”

“PPEs have expiration dates, but the supervisors are not replacing them when they wear out. When the company doesn’t replace the PPE, it puts workers at risk,” Feraesp’s Bispo points out.

Pregnant workers fired

Maria stopped working at Cutrale farms in August 2021. After three months registered as a seasonal harvest worker, she found out she was pregnant and informed the company. “I got pregnant while I was working there. I sent them the test, they told me to stay at home because of the pandemic, and then I was fired,” she says. More than 30 days passed between the date she communicated her pregnancy and her dismissal by Cutrale.

In the case of pregnant workers, the brazilian legislation guarantees temporary employment stability for up to five months after giving birth. During this period, termination only takes place legally if it occurs for just cause. A law enacted in May 2021 also guaranteed that pregnant employees do not have to perform in-person activities during the pandemic. In cases of tasks that cannot be performed remotely such as harvesting oranges, workers are entitled to paid leave or tasks adapted to remote work.

Maria claims she was not the only pregnant woman who was fired. “I know a colleague who became pregnant and was sent away when she was seven months pregnant.” For Feraesp’s Aparecido Bispo, the report is surprising. “It’s been a while since I’ve seen a complaint about companies firing pregnant workers. That’s very serious, and it rarely happens.”

That is not so rare at Cutrale. The company has already been convicted for firing pregnant workers. In February 2013, it was sentenced to pay R$ 500,000 as compensation for collective damages for discriminating against pregnant employees. At the time, Cutrale denied the charges and appealed the decision.

Illegal searches

According to the workers heard by Repórter Brasil, at the end of each workday, farm supervisors inspect each worker’s belongings before the group boards the bus that will take them back home. “Every day we have to open our backpacks and show supervisors what’s in them,” Daniel explains. “If one day the supervisor finds out that someone is bringing home oranges from the company, he will give the worker a warning and may terminate their contract with just cause.”

In 2018, the Labour Court of Araraquara ordered the company to pay R$ 2 million as compensation for collective moral damages, for carrying out that type of search. Cutrale, which appealed the decision, issued a statement at the time saying that “in some cases, unfortunately, employees’ belongings must be visually checked at the end of the day to protect company property.”

Lack of transparency in weighing

Weighing harvested oranges is another stressful situation reported by workers. Payment is calculated by bag picked – one bag is equivalent to 20 orange boxes. According to Daniel and Maria, group supervisors often receive the 20 boxes collected but count only 19 or 18.

“He probably counts [the missing boxes] for someone,” explains Feraesp’s Bispo. “Sometimes he has a relative there or his wife works with him, and he counts that box for the wife. We’ve heard this type of complaint.”

“Workers are losing around one to three boxes per bag. If the supervisor measures it wrong, he’s robbing the workers during weighing. Just imagine that happening for a whole month: its’ around 70 boxes. There will be very serious reduction in payment. Why are supervisors not being transparent? The company must do something about it,” Bispo points out.


Workers also point out that they are often forced to work in heavy rain or do overtime on Saturdays to meet production targets set by supervisors. “We work all week and, on Saturdays, we sometimes leave at 11 am or 12 pm. He’ll keep us there until the truck is loaded. One Saturday we left at 2 pm,” Daniel recalls.

Controlling overtime pay is difficult since there is no Internet access. At Cutrale’s farms where the employees interviewed by Repórter Brasil work, payslips are provided online, and only workers with Internet access can consult them. “When you ask for the payslip at the farm, they are legally obliged to provide it, but they don’t. I remember two workers who asked for their payslips but the company didn’t give it to them,” Daniel recalls.

“No union came where I work. And I’m sure that if workers keep talking about unions, they’ll be fired”, he says. “This job is bad, but it’s all we’ve got,” Maria adds.

History of violations

Since 2016, 133 inspection operations were carried out at Cutrale’s farms, according to a survey conducted by labour inspectors from the Ministry of Economy’s Special Secretariat for Social Security and Labour. The fines applied to the company’s properties show that, since 2015, most violations are related to noncompliance with NR-31 – the main Regulatory Standard for Safety and Health in rural areas – 71 cases – and with regulations about rest and working hours, with 12 and 11 cases, respectively.

Before that, slave labour had been found at the company in 2013, at the Vale Verde and Pontal farms, in Minas Gerais’ Triângulo area. The 23 workers rescued by federal government inspectors were housed in extremely precarious conditions, had no paid weekly rest and, in some cases, had to go into debt to purchase food and hygiene items – which they could only buy from their employer.

The Labour Prosecution Service has also filed several lawsuits against Cutrale. In 2015, prosecutors filed a Public Civil Action (ACP) against the company for exposing orange harvest workers to precarious health and safety conditions. The lawsuits were motivated by 90 violations registered by labour inspectors in 13 Cutrale farms between August 2012 and February 2015. Three years later, the company was ordered to pay R$ 300,000 as compensation for collective moral damages, but it appealed the decision.

More recently, in March 2019, Feraesp representatives denounced to the Labour Inspection Secretariat the precarious accommodation and working conditions of orange harvest workers on a farm in the municipality of Ubirajara, 200 km from Araraquara. The area was part of a consortium of farmers that supplied oranges to Cutrale.

During the inspection on the property, which was accompanied by Repórter Brasil, workers – including a teenager – were found working without adequate PPE and with nor access to toilets or drinking water. Their monthly pay did not even reach the legal minimum wage.

During the inspection on the property, which was accompanied by Repórter Brasil, workers – including a teenager – were found working without adequate PPE and with nor access to toilets or drinking water. Their monthly pay did not even reach the legal minimum wage.

*Names changed to protect identity



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