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Brazil is the world’s largest producer of sugar and ethanol processed from sugar cane. More than a million people work directly for Brazil’s sugar-cane industry – many as manual cane-cutters – but mechanisation in the industry is growing.
Workers have been cutting sugar cane manually in Brazil for 500 years. Today Raízen is among Brazil’s main sugar-cane processing companies, employing around 17,000 manual cane-cutters. Most of these cutters work in São Paulo state for the harvest season that runs from May to November.
Labour conditions in the Brazilian sugar-cane industry are governed by national laws, with the Ministry of Labour carrying out regular inspections of the way companies work.
“The growth of the sugar cane industry has developed the region,” says Admar Strini Junior, Raízen agricultural manager in São Paulo state. “It has also given workers new skills.”
Most manual harvesting is being phased out in São Paulo state, ahead of state requirements due to come into force in 2014. Raízen is training some manual cane cutters for new roles, including operating and maintaining machines for sowing and harvesting. It has launched a training programme for some workers to gain other trade skills, for example as electricians or mechanics.