Companies face legal and reputational risk in the way they source sugar
Companies face legal and reputational risk in the way they source sugar

'Strong sourcing can improve conditions on Guatemalan sugar plantations'

18 July 2017

Guatemala’s sugarcane harvesters suffer from serious breaches of labour law and are victims of human trafficking, a Verité report claims.

Verité's study urges companies that source sugar, directly or indirectly, from Guatemala to use their power to improve working conditions on sugarcane plantations, or face legal and reputational risks.

Guatemala is the fourth largest sugar exporter in the world and the third biggest exporter of sugar to the US. The industry provides 85,000 jobs.

Researchers interviewed 38 workers across the country’s 13 mills.

Sugarcane plantations employ staff through brokers. Most workers said they were deceived about working hours, compensation, living conditions and were rarely paid the promised rate.

Many workers say they were recruited by force and didn't leave because their identity documents had been confiscated. 

Shawn MacDonald, CEO of Verité, told SM: “Through strong supplier sourcing and oversight, companies can ensure workers’ most basic needs for potable water, shade and breaks are met.

“The problems of deceptive and exploitative labour recruitment can be addressed through measures such as requiring suppliers to pay for all costs of recruitment, directly hiring workers rather than relying on brokers, and performing rigorous due diligence on all actors involved in labour recruitment.”

Workers are paid if they meet quotas but targets set by employers are exorbitant. Children are often exploited and asked to assist family members to achieve their goals.

MacDonald said: “Brands and mills should be discouraging payments based on quotas and piece rates to guarantee that every worker receives the minimum wage and to reduce the incentive of parents to include their children in work.”

The report recommends that companies and governments reduce child labour by providing free or affordable childcare and offer schooling so that workers do not have to take children to work.

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