Behind the intrigues of colonels and the adventures of love between José Inocêncio and Maria Santa in Reborn, a renowned Globo soap opera launched last week, there is a world of labor violations not portrayed. And the worst: supported by multinationals that profit billions from chocolate production in Brazil.
Produced by Brazil in factthe documentary Sharecroppers, by reporters Pedro Stropasolas and Vitor Shimomura, released this Thursday (1), at 10am, shows the precarious living conditions of rural families who produce cocoa to sell the product as an agricultural commodity. And it brings light to an aggravating reality: the structure of the production chain is sustained worldwide by an inhumane and immoral logic, where contemporary slavery and child labor are common practices in cultivation areas.
“The cocoa producing family is the main actor in this production chain and, at the same time, is the main victim of an inhumane process. The situation is very serious”, says Vitor Shimomura, one of the directors.
“Behind cocoa production there is a huge trail of poverty and inequality. This is what the documentary Meeiros addresses. The wealth from cocoa and chocolate does not reach producing families. They pay very poorly for cocoa and families are unable to qualify their production to the point of escaping the predatory relationship with mills and middlemen”, adds Shimomura.
The cocoa crisis
In the southern region of Bahia, the socioeconomic collapse caused by the incidence of the Witch’s Broom fungus in cultivation areas, starting in 1989, imposed a new configuration of labor relations in the production chain. To maintain their land, many producers handed over farms devastated by the plague to the zeal of cocoa sharecroppers, through agricultural partnership contracts.
Those who least felt the crisis were the multinationals that control the cocoa and chocolate production chain. On the contrary, they expanded their dominance over world production during the period.
From the 1980s to the present day, according to a situational analysis report produced by the NGO Papel Social and released by the International Labor Organization and the Public Ministry of Labor in 2018, the percentage of the value of a chocolate bar that remains with the rural worker was reduced by 62%.
This data shows the role of foreign oligopoly in worsening poverty in Bahia and Pará, states that account for 90% of Brazilian cocoa production.
“Meeiros talks about the cocoa chain, but it is a portrait of how the production of cocoa is structured. commodities within Brazilian agribusiness. A colonial model, and highly dependent on foreign capital”, analyzes Pedro Stropasolas, who also signs the direction.
The production chain
Barry Callebaut, Cargill and Olam Brasil process more than 90% of the cocoa produced in the country in Ilhéus (BA) / Pedro Stropasolas and Vitor Shimomura
There are three foreign mills that dominate the cocoa bean processing market: the Belgian Barry Callebaut, the Singaporean Olam Cocoa and the North American Cargill. The three multinationals process more than 90% of the cocoa produced in the country in Ilhéus (BA).
From the mills, cocoa butter and powder are produced, the raw materials for making chocolate by major retail brands. Also foreign, Nestlé and Mondelez dominate this market, and are responsible for two thirds of the chocolate consumed by the Brazilian population.
The cocoa harvested by sharecroppers reaches the three mills through middlemen. This commercialization is not monitored, and sales, in most cases, occur informally. It is in this scenario of little supervision, in forgotten rural areas of the Cocoa Coast, where labor violations occur, and where the recordings of Sharecroppers were made.
The documentary’s plot has as its central axis the story of three families of rural workers who live in Ilhéus and Uruçuca. During the recording period, at the beginning of 2018, a year of drought and low harvest, the families of Dermeval, Robério and Biro were unable to reach a minimum monthly wage to support the family.
“The price paid by intermediaries is so low that families are unable to pay their bills at the end of the month. In practice, what we see is that the sharecropping or partnership contract is used to disguise the relationship of exploitation and rights violations”, points out Vitor Shimomura.
Robério and family: double shifts as a sharecropper in cocoa and in a syringe are not enough for an income greater than a monthly minimum wage / Pedro Stropasolas and Vitor Shimomura
Profits and income amid slave and child labor
According to the International Labor Organization (ILO), around 8 thousand Brazilian children and adolescents work in cocoa growing areas.
Furthermore, at least 148 people were rescued from slave labor on cocoa farms in the last 15 years, according to a survey by Repórter Brasil. The vast majority of these workers were cocoa sharecroppers.
Meanwhile in the business world, Nestlê had an operating profit of 7.9 billion Swiss francs in the first half of 2023 alone. Cargill’s net profit in 2022, in its operations in Brazil alone, was R$1.2 billion, according to the company’s own announcement.
A sharecropper for years, Biro has now managed to get registered, but lives with his family on an old farm without electricity / Pedro Stropasolas and Vitor Shimomura
In 2023, Cargill, which has its largest cocoa grinding unit in Latin America in Ilhéus (BA), was condemned for allowing child labor and the enslavement of children in cocoa production in cities in Bahia.
“Nothing has been done concretely to change this scenario. The cocoa production chain, in the way it is structured, is comfortable for those at the top. There is no interest in monitoring the working conditions of those who harvest the cocoa used to produce chocolate”, concludes Pedro Stropasolas, one of Meeiros’ directors.
Editing: Rodrigo Durão Coelho