Brazil must improve working conditions for sugarcane cutters if it wants to take advantage of a “golden opportunity” to become a worldwide biofuel supplier, President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said Tuesday.
Addressing growing criticism over conditions for workers who use machetes to chop down sugarcane for ethanol, Silva called on plantation owners to meet with cane cutters and the government “to discuss the humanization of working conditions in the sugarcane fields.”
A similar plea by Silva two months ago has yielded no such talks.
Labor rights advocates say plantation owners force cutters to work long, backbreaking hours at low pay, and without proper safety equipment or safe drinking water.
In a meeting with businessmen at the Planalto Presidential Palace in Brasilia, Silva warned that landowners could opt for cane-cutting machinery, which would cost jobs.
“For every machine in use, 90 workers lose their jobs, ‘”he said.
Silva added that the issue requires a “common denominator to prevent us from losing the golden opportunity we have with ethanol and biofuel.”
Brazil is the second-largest producer of ethanol in the world after the United States, and is the No. 1 exporter. Experts say the nation could become the industry’s undisputed world leader because of the high efficiency of processing sugarcane into ethanol, compared with corn, which is used in the U.S.
Brazil’s cane crop is estimated to produce a record 5.3 billion gallons of ethanol this season.
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