CNN Photos

The labor of sugar production

Editor’s note: This is the second post in a series highlighting six photographers who were commissioned by the Dutch photography organization Noorderlicht to produce “The Sweet and Sour Story of Sugar.” The project examines globalization by looking at the sugar industry in the Netherlands and its former colonies.

Nearly two decades after Italian photographer Francesco Zizola looked at child slavery in Brazil, he returned again with the hopes of finding improvements in the country’s sugar production process.

“I was surprised to find some improvements in some usinas (sugar factories), especially with respect to workers' rights,” he said. “However, in the most remote areas, exploitation of the workforce was still a reality, and the obsolete factories still represent a real danger for the workers.”

His project compares the industrialized sugar beet harvest in the Netherlands to sugarcane production in northeastern Brazil, the country’s former colony and the world's largest exporter of sugar, according to the U.N.

The biggest difference between sugar production in the two countries was the number of workers involved, Zizola says.

The process is highly mechanized in the Netherlands, while Brazil relies more heavily on human labor, especially in the hilly areas where automatic cutting machines cannot operate.

“The only similarity was the attitude of the rural workers,” he said. “The laborers in the field use their hands in order to produce sugar from nature. All of them are enacting the same daily procedures with the same goal.”

Considering the size of the sugar industry in Brazil, Zizola was surprised to discover how operations have been impacted by increased salaries throughout the country.

“Because of the exceptional growth of the Brazilian economy, more and more workers are choosing different work with better paid contracts,” he said, listing construction jobs as an example. “In fact, this is one of the most effective factors helping to reduce the brutal exploitation of the labor force.”

- Elizabeth I. Johnson, CNN

View last weeks post on the remnants of Dutch sugar factories.