RAP-AL Uruguay recently published a report on “Working conditions and agrochemical use in Eufores (Ence) and FOSA (Botnia) nurseries”. Both of these operations are FSC-certified. The report, written by María Isabel Cárcamo, is based on research carried out at the nurseries.
The full report (in Spanish) is available here. RAP-AL is The Latin American Network of Action on Pesticides and their Alternatives (La Red de Acción en Plaguicidas y sus Alternativas de América Latina).
Working conditions and agrochemical use in Eufores (Ence) and FOSA (Botnia) nurseries
By María Isabel Cárcamo
RAPAL Uruguay has made public the results of its recent study on “Working conditions and agrochemical use in forestry nurseries.” The study focused on the nurseries of the two largest companies with eucalyptus plantations in Uruguay: Eufores (Ence-Spain) and FOSA (Botnia-Finland).
One of the first significant findings of this study is that in both companies the vast majority of the workers are outsourced workers and that the subcontracting scheme applied is detrimental to the workers’ interests. In the first place, because it divides the workers, and secondly, because it prevents them from progressing to other tasks (they will always be “simple laborers”) and condemns them to seasonality, and job insecurity. No matter how many years they work or the specialty they might develop in their work, they will never be promoted to a higher position.
With respect to the generation of jobs for women, a point the forestry companies have insisted so much on, the study found that while both nurseries employ a significant number of women, most of these women already worked outside the home, and in the nurseries they are for the most part hired as “simple laborers”, despite performing specialized tasks, such as eucalyptus cloning.
In terms of wages, while the pay is somewhat better than in other jobs available locally, that does not mean the wages are adequate, as workers claim the pay is barely enough to “get by”, and that the job forces them to be away from home for many hours. In the case of women, this situation is aggravated by the fact that in addition to working long hours outside the home (10 to 12 hours) when they return to their homes they have to care for the children and do house chores.
As a result of the working conditions in both nurseries, pregnant workers are forced to begin their prenatal leave between the 4th and 6th month of pregnancy, as none have been able to work up to the 7th and 1/2 month, which is considered the normal term. Upon being consulted as to why they decided to stop working early on in their pregnancy, they all said it was “for health reasons”, and because the conditions they worked in were unfit: temperatures that can get as high as 40 degrees Celsius, and/or having to stand or sit for long hours. Such conditions make it impossible for them to continue working until their seventh and a half month of pregnancy.
With respect to health, the same ailments are seen in both nurseries: skin and eye allergies and hypertension. In one of the nurseries, women workers say that 90% of the children born from women who work there suffer from allergies, spasms and asthma.
In both nurseries, the use of agrotoxic substances (in particular, fungicides) is a continuous practice. The average life of these substances varies greatly, with some remaining active in the environment for a short period of time and others persisting for months. This means that workers are permanently exposed to the effects associated with the toxicity of the products applied, and the residual effects of such products are accumulative. Although these substances are applied during non-working hours, when workers are not present in the nurseries, this measure only prevents them from suffering the effects of direct exposure, but not the effects of exposure to the highly persistent substances accumulated in the work environment. This is verified by the workers themselves, who can smell the products the day after they’ve been applied.
As for the agrotoxic substances employed, the study highlights that in both nurseries the fungicide Captan is used. It should be noted that this substance was banned in Finland by that country’s pesticide division in August 2001, due to its extreme toxicity. It is officially considered carcinogenic by the government of the State of California. It contaminates both soil and groundwater, is highly toxic for fish, and affects frogs, birds and fowl. So, how can Forestal Oriental, a subsidiary of the Finish company Botnia, be using in Uruguay an agrochemical banned in its country of origin?
The research also found that the company Eufores uses two agrotoxic substances that are banned by the body that granted its certification (the Forest Stewardship Council – FSC). One of these substances is the fungicide Fundazol, whose active ingredient is Benomil. The use of Fundazol is not permitted by the FSC as it is an endocrine disruptor and because it produces genetic mutations, and the EPA has classified it as a possible carcinogen for humans. The other fungicide is Flonex, whose active ingredient is Mancozeb, and which is also banned by the FSC because it is carcinogenic.
Also surprising were the differences found between the lists of agrotoxic substances provided by the two companies to RAPAL, on the one hand, and those supplied by the workers, on the other, as the latter contain 3 fungicides, 1 insecticide and 1 hormone, all of which are omitted by the lists of the companies.
Another aggravating aspect is the fact that FOSA does not monitor the health of the workers exposed to agrotoxic substances, and Eufores workers don’t trust the monitoring performed by their company. The Ministry of Public Health should, therefore, intervene and take the necessary measures to ensure the health of workers.
In sum, the research concludes that these two certified companies are anything but “environmentally appropriate, socially beneficial and economically viable” (as defined by the FSC’s mission). On the contrary, they use that seal at the expense of the work and health of their workers and of the environment of all Uruguayans.
María Isabel Cárcamo RAP-AL Uruguay September 3, 2007
The full study is available at:
Research commissioned by Grupo Guayubira