The harvest of shame

tomatoes harvest

I sometimes ask myself why certain foodstuffs – such as fruits and vegetables are sold at a low price.

The Price has become a new philosophy of life for consumers and a new sales policy for farmers and distributors.

Day after day the food found on our plates is becoming more globalized in terms of where they come from: tomatoes from Foggia, the beautiful bananas from Cameroon, avocadoes of Venezuela, tasty mangoes from Senegal,  fish  fromGuinea, the Ivory Coast's cocoa and so on.

But what really happens upstream , prior to these products arriving on the shelves in a fully stocked European supermarket?  In what  working conditions do you find those who produce for the western world ?

 

The "harvest of shame " is an expression used to define and characterize a practice of abnormal exploitation of some regions and vulnerable people.

Obviously this is a unorthodox practice, in some cases even illegal and totally unproductive from an ethical point of view, this is often due to the fact that many companies operating on a global scale gain their supplies from markets where rules, practices and safety measures pertaining to work are not respected.

We have limited ourselves to two cases as examples illustrating the behavior and attitude of a farm in French Cameroon and the system of illegal hiring in the South of Italy , as reported in the documentary TV program Cash Investigation, aired recently on the channel France 2.

 

 

BANANAS OF CAMEROON

Compagnie Fruitière is a French multinational present in Cameroon with its subsidiary Société des Plantations du Haut Penja (PHP).

The company settled  in the African country in 1991 and now owns 4,500 acres of land on which it cultivates bananas known by the brand SCB premium , otherwise called Bouba (from the name of a worker of the same company).

Bouba bananas are renowned for their orange-yellow color and intense flavor. They are valuable and in demand on the European markets.

La Compagnie Frutière holds 10% of the market shares in France, offering unbeatable prices.

Based on what ?

 

The program Cash Investigation has analyzed the behaviors in Cameroonian territory , to try to give an answer to this question.

According to the NGO Fadenah (Front Africain pour la Défense de la Nature et de l' Homme – African Front for the Defense of Nature and Man ) , the French company still uses phytosanitary products whose implementation have been revoked in Europe several years ago.

In the report issued by Fadenah in 2010 environmental and health consequences related to the use of pesticides on local populations were identified, highlighting a causal link between diseases of the population and the use of certain phytosanitary products.

For example: the Chlornil 720 SC, has been withdrawn from the European market since 2010 as it is carcinogen , the Dithane M-45, which irritates the respiratory system and banned in 2007, the Manzate 75 DF, which was also taken off the market in 2007 as it also causes irritation to the respiratory system and water pollution, the Siganex, whose toxic effects have not yet been properly identified, but is no longer sold since the year 2000. 

These products are still being used in Cameroon and the multinational company would use them on it’s plantations to produce bananas sold cheaply in Europe.

"The government prevents us from expressing ourselves," says Franck Bialeu, the director of a documentary entitled "The Banana" which speaks of the exploitation in Cameroon in the name of the business connected with this fruit.

People who refuse to give up their land are imprisoned. The average salary of workers is 23,000 CFA francs (23 euro) per month, below the minimum required by law (43 euro). Some workers work up to 14 hours a day.

It is easy to do business and keep prices low, thanks to these parameters.

But even before being ethical , these conditions are not even humane.

 

 

THE BROCCOLI AND TOMATOES OF PUGLIA

The same documentary by France 2 allows you to have further clarification on the subject of modern slavery organized in the sector of broccoli and tomatoes production in southern Italy, mainly in the area of Foggia.

The market for retail GDO in France – mainly Auchan and Carrefour – are supplied vegetables, greens, tomatoes and canned tomatoes by Italian suppliers.

The unbeatable prices  charged to customers of supermarkets depend on what?

By the exploitation and failure to comply with the code of ethics on the part of some Italian Suppliers.

An example? Foreign workers specialized in the processing of broccoli are paid € 4 per hour for nine hours, seven days a week.

And if the Italians receive 25 € per day to collect the broccoli in the fields, an immigrant earns just 12.70 €.

 

In Puglia immigrants – mostly Africans and laborers from the countries of Eastern Europe – are subject to the "rules" of undeclared work for pennies per day.

Workers are sometimes seized, their passports withdrawn, forced to live in huts and work under particularly difficult conditions.

These slaves of modern times live in crowded ghettos, provided with no minimal level of hygienic services.

Their statements issued during the reportage  allows one to understand how they are victims of a well structured exploitation, motivated by the notorious system known as "caporalato".

Each team of "slaves" is managed by a corporal.

The corporal is not an employer, but controls everyone and everything. He is an intermediary who pays salaries, organizes the work, controls and maneuvers at his will the members of the team.

The system is based on the recruitment of vulnerable and often defenseless persons, for the most part illegal immigrants.

It is a social-working  environment in which the beneficiaries – the exploiters – have no interest in stoping this flow of immigrants. The emigrants in search of a better life sometimes find themselves in the hands of unscrupulous people who make them work for long hours under the snow, the sun and the rain.

They receive 4 € per hour to fill boxes of 300 pounds of tomatoes.

Here is how you can offer low prices to final consumers at the expense of human beings treated unfairly in the production chain.

 

I am reminded of a phrase by Jean -Jacques Rousseau: "Man is born free but is everywhere in chains".

From tomorrow, let us ask ourselves this question when we are at the supermarket: from what discounted price does exploitation begin?

 

(Translated by Victoria Lutterodt)

 

 

Written by Eric Lambert Noumbo

Eric Lambert Noumbo

Eric Lambert Noumbo was born in Cameroon. He has a Bachelor’s of Science on Agribusiness and got in Italy, where he’s living, a degree in Economics and Finance at Politecnica University of Marche. He’s attending a degree in Economics and International Commerce at Macerata University. He has been involved in many projects and analysis concerning payment balance at Cameroon Ministry of Economy and Finance.
Actually he cooperates with Italian SMEs, developing new markets in Africa and Middle East.

The harvest of shame
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About Eric Lambert Noumbo

Eric Lambert Noumbo was born in Cameroon. He has a Bachelor's of Science on Agribusiness and got in Italy, where he's living, a degree in Economics and Finance at Politecnica University of Marche. He's attending a degree in Economics and International Commerce at Macerata University. He has been involved in many projects and analysis concerning payment balance at Cameroon Ministry of Economy and Finance. Actually he cooperates with Italian SMEs, developing new markets in Africa and Middle East.
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