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In the agribusiness, sugarcane activity has the highest formalization rate and the lowest of child labor

Several studies that cover occupation in agriculture and livestock activities in Brazil indicate that the sugarcane planting has, among all activities of the sector, the highest formalization rate (circa 80%, considering PNAD – National Home Sample Research – data), surpassing the second activity in the ranking, which is poultry farming. Cassava and corn crops, for instance, have formalization rates below 5% and 10%, respectively. In São Paulo, the formalization rate surpasses 90%.


This scenario is a result of efforts from the government, class entities, international institutions and entrepreneurs of the sugar-energy industry over the last years, which have favored, direct or indirectly, to improve workers’ conditions of this segment of the Brazilian agribusiness, which faced severe criticism for many years.


Amongst numberless indexes that are used to assess socioeconomic responsibilities and the consequent sustainability of a production chain, this article considers the ones that covers the eradication of child labor and the formalization in the job market in the sugarcane activity. This is because these aspects of the social area get special attention from both the Brazilian society and potential importers, who are more and more demanding.


The goal established by the UN is to eliminate all forms of child labor until 2025 with joint efforts. In order to do so, programs from the government and non-governmental organizations are necessary; from employers, transparency and the social commitment to accomplish legal aspects referring to teenagers’ employment are expected, aiming, when possible, to complement services related to health, training and education offered by the government or entities.


Literature about child labor indicates that it has been shrinking, due to current laws, commissions that fight child labor, heavy monitoring, implementation of social programs, policies to improve the education of children and young people and actions of international institutions. However, there are still roughly two million children and teenagers working in Brazil.


When agricultural and livestock sectors in Brazil are considered, sugarcane activities, according to PNAD data presented by Abrinq, have the lowest representativeness in terms of child and teenage labor (from 10 to 17 years old), only 0.7%, preceded by citrus fruits, grape, beekeeping and large animals farming, except cattle. Corn planting and cattle and poultry farming have the highest representativeness: 13.4%, 12.9% and 16.4%, respectively. Roughly 800 thousand children and teenagers (from 10 to 17 years old) work in agricultural activities, and from this number, circa 300 thousand are between 10 and 14 years old.


The formalization in agriculture and livestock is understood as being officially hired in different categories of rural employments, on salary basis. The rural employer, on the other hand, performs agroeconomic activities, permanently or temporarily, with the help of employees.


The rural work has started to gain attention in Brazil only after 1988, when the Federal Constitution had been enacted. Up until then, rural activities were performed informally. Currently, rural workers’ rights are established by a specific legislation (Rural Work Law – Law n. 5,889/73), regulated by Decree n. 73,626/74. This legislation was established in order not to affect the article 7 of the Federal Constitution. This legislation had equalized the rural worker to the urban. Currently, there are only a few differences of the labor legislation between urban and rural sectors.


Several initiatives aim to accelerate processes that assure sustainability to productive chains of the agriculture and livestock in Brazil. In case of sugarcane activity, Pacto dos Bandeirantes can be mentioned. It was signed in April 1996 by Unica (Brazilian Sugarcane Industry Association), aiming to eradicate child labor.


Still concerning workers’ support, the National Commitment to Improve Working Conditions in the Sugarcane Industry was established, involving employers, employees and the federal government. The necessity to improve work practices, namely the adoption of practices referring to health and safety, the release of better practices with cane suppliers, literacy and qualification of workers, support to migrants and the transportation of workers were recognized in this commitment. The Elo Project (a partnership of Imaflora and Fundação Solidaridad) can also be mentioned, because it involves encouragement to farmers and improvement of sugarcane producers’ practices, who supply the raw material to Raízen.


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