The sugar cane plantations of Bolivia recruit thousands of native peoples from remote corners of the Andean mountain region for the annual harvest. But a new report on forced labour from the International Labour Organization, the ILO, says that many of these workers are victims of abusive recruitment that leads them into a cycle of debt bondage. It is a practice that is resurgent in other parts of the world as well. ILO TV reports.
It can only be described as a journey into hell. Drawn from the mountains of Bolivia these men are bound for the sugar cane harvest in fields, a 3 day drive away. They take their entire family with them, herded into trucks with little food or water and the few belongings that must last them through the harvest.
At the end of the road, a straw hut with a dirt floor, and no running water. For the next 6 months, this will be home to 60 families.
We have to gather and load the sugar cane with our bare hands. Who can stand that for six months? It's very tough work.
It is one of the toughest jobs in the world, evoking images of plantation slavery. . The sugar industry in Latin America and the Caribbean uses workers who have often been illegally recruited by a middleman. He tricks them into borrowing money and to pay back the debt, they cut sugar cane for $3 a ton. By the end of the harvest, workers may owe more than when they started, and the cycle begins again. A new report from the ILO says this system is a typical example of forced labour and is widespread among the rural poor.
People in rural areas tend to be isolated. They don't necessarily have good access to education, they don't know their rights, they are not close to trade unions that could help them. They are very vulnerable.
For many families, forced labour is all they have ever known. They see no way out of this cycle of debt bondage. Edilberto Jimenez has worked in these fields since he was a small boy.
It's a tough job. But we're used to it. We've been working all our lives. We have no choice but to do this work since we have no money.
Radio broadcasts by local trade unions inform the workers of their rights as they prepare for another day in the fields. Union activists visit them, bringing aid and advice on how to organize. It's a small step, but a vital one in the struggle to clear forced labour from these fields.