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From orange to juice - Squeezed, from Brazil

Worldwide, the European Union (EU) is the largest consumer of oranges by importing roughly two-thirds of global exports, worth $ 1.59 billion in 2012. Today, a third of these popular fruits are produced in Brazil, as is more than half of all orange juice.

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However, the path of the juice from producers to consumers is paved with frustration and injustice. While the cultivation of oranges is very labour-intensive, workers’ wages are very low with workers receiving only around € 2.60 per crate of oranges (40.8 kg). With the global orange juice market dominated by only four companies (Cutrale, Citrosuco, Citrovita, and Louis Dreyfus Commodities, LDC) their market power is enormous and makes it possible for them to push prices lower than the cost of production.

The severity of the issue was a topic at the last meeting of the European Parliament Fair Trade Working Group as Cicera Coltro, an orange juice plantation worker from Brazil, and Marcio Propheta, a labour rights lawyer from Brazil, told the group about their own first-hand experiences. The Fair Trade Advocacy Office, in collaboration with Traidcraft and Christliche Initiative Romero (CIR), helped to bring the voice of the marginalized workers to the EU decision makers. Fair Trade plays an important role in improving the livelihoods of orange producers as it allows them to get a fair wage. Furthermore, Fair Trade gives European consumers the opportunity to make informed purchasing choices by deciding to buy an orange juice that is produced under fair conditions. 

5. EPWG producers 800x536 cutCicera Coltro (seated, right) and Marcio Propheta (standing, right) explained the situation of Brazilian orange juice plantation workers to the EP Fair Trade Working Group, chaired by Linda McAvan (standing)

Recently, the Association of Conscious Consumers (ACC/TVE) studied the European orange juice supply chain. The study investigated supermarket buying power and its effect on consumer choices, working conditions and sustainability. Based on the research of the Brazilian Instituto Observatório Social (IOS) and the German CIR, the ACC produced a film about the supply chain of orange juice originating from Brazil. The film sends a clear message to European decision makers and consumers to take action and ensure more transparent and fair orange juice supply chains.

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Some findings from the study by IOS and CIR:

It is common practice to conclude seasonal contracts on the plantations. These fixed-term contracts mean that workers are always under pressure to be extremely productive, as otherwise they have no prospect of being hired during the next harvesting season.

The sacks workers tie round their bodies for the harvest weigh up to 30 kg. The workers must harvest 60 sacks a day to earn the standard minimum wage, which is € 260 per month.

The ladders that workers are supposed to use are not suitable for the work.

Drinking water is not made available to labourers out in the fields. There is also a lack of toilet facilities on the plantations.

It is extremely hot and noisy in the factories. There is insufficient light and no ventilation.

There is a pronounced anti-union attitude in both the plantations and factories.

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