The farm appears to be a model property. It’s Brazil, and the Córrego das Almas farm in Piumhi, in rural Minas Gerais state has signs posted that slave labor is not allowed. These signs also display international certifications as testament to the fact that the labor practices and production values on the farm are above reproach. Mongabay reports on the possible illegal conditions uncovered at the farm.
Brazil Labor Ministry officials raided the farm and rescued 18 workers who were living and working there under conditions akin to slavery.
The farm holds the C.A.F.E. Practices certification, which is owned by Starbucks in a partnership with SCS Global Services. Starbucks said it has not purchased coffee from this farm in recent years. When they heard about the raid, both companies said they would be reviewing the farm’s quality certificate. The certificate verifies quality and ethical labor practices, among other things.
The investigators who rescued the workers said they were living in substandard housing, without sewerage or drinking water. They also found the working conditions were degrading. In addition to the C.A.F.E. Practices certification, the farm also holds the UTZ seal, a sustainable farming certificate that originated in the Netherlands. It’s considered one of the most prestigious certifications in the coffee industry. The seal of approval has also been suspended after the results of the investigation.
The farm is known locally as Fartura, the Portuguese word for abundance. But the operating standards there were far below what one would expect for such a facility. The workers who were rescued said there were lots of bats and mice. When they would buy food, the mice would eat their food, causing the workers to have to go and buy more food again.
“We weren’t paid for holidays, Sundays, nothing,” said one of the rescued workers. “And we worked from Monday to Saturday with no record of the hours. During the week, we would start at 6 am and only stop at 5 pm.”
According to the workers, they were paid according to the amount of coffee they picked. They had shared lodging, no drinking water, and the conditions were so unsanitary that investigators said the health of the workers was at risk. They also reported unethical pay practices, stating that the coffee they harvested would vanish before it was weighed, causing them to lose out on pay.
Workers also reported having to pay a hefty bus fare just to be able to go cash their paychecks – essentially, paying to get paid. Conditions are still being investigated, and all companies who certified the farm said the status of the certifications are under review.