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Forced to Watch Asparagus Grow

The 1800 workers who pick asparagus for the Norwegian-registered agricultural company Camposol in Peru spend 12 hours at their workplace every day. But they are only paid for 8 hours.

Artikkelen er mer enn to år gammel. Ting kan ha endret seg.

The 1800 workers who pick asparagus for the Norwegian-registered agricultural company Camposol in Peru spend 12 hours at their workplace every day. But they are only paid for 8 hours.

camposol_chao2_520-330.jpg[English translation published 18 March 2009. After this story was published in Norwegian, Camposol has told that lunch brake is reduced to 2 hours]

By Erik Hagen
Norwatch

The working days are long for Camposol’s asparagus pickers. Norwatch has visited the company’s plantations in the Chao Valley on the coast of Peru.

Camposol is the world’s largest exporter of asparagus. The company, which was registered on the Oslo Stock Exchange in 2007, employs as many as 10,000 people during the busy season. The working conditions are tough, the heat unbearable, and the pay low. Most of the 1800 asparagus pickers work on short-term contracts.
When Norwatch visited the company’s plantations, the workers related that they had to take a long, forced work break so that the company could harvest the asparagus as many times as possible during the day. From 11 a.m. the workers take a lunch break – whether they want to or not – which lasts 3 hours. Shortly after Norwatch had discussed the matter with the employees and the company, the break was reduced somewhat.
Asparagus grows 3 cm every day and has to be picked at precisely the right moment. It can be a matter of hours or minutes between when a plant is first class and when it is worthless.

Three to four times daily, therefore, the workers pass through the same field to harvest the asparagus sprouts.
The company claims that the workers can not work in the scorching sun in the middle of the day. The workers disagree and say that the break is that long so that a larger part of the crop will be ready and the harvest can continue.

camposol_chao5_380.jpgThe workers are not paid for waiting, and the trade union claims they are not even allowed to leave the company’s property in the meantime.

Three Daily
The workers with whom Norwatch has spoken say that the long inactive period on Camposol’s property ruins their days. They get to spend very little time with their families.

Every day the workers spend about 12 hours at their workplace but are only paid for 8 hours. “We barely have time to get home and lie down before we have to get up again,” one of them told Norwatch.

“We have requested that the company reduces the break in the working day to just 1 or 2 hours, but they won’t do it. They have told us that they need this break in the middle of the day so that we will be able to pick the necessary three to four harvests daily,” Walter Campos, the representative of Camposol’s union, Sitecasa, related.
The union representative said that they have discussed this problem with the company’s management, but they do not wish to change the working hours. “They told us that companies all over the world have the right to determine the working hours of their employees,” he said.

“Strong Sun”
The company told Norwatch that they have this arrangement to protect their workers and that they won’t accept reducing the length of the siesta. “No, we won’t, certainly not. This is hard physical work, and it is hot in the middle of the day in this area. The workers themselves have demanded that the working hours be respected,” Francesca Carnesella, Camposol’s information officer, maintained.

camposol_chao1_380.jpgWhen Norwatch spoke with the trade union and the company, the lunch break was 3 hours long. A week later it was reduced by a half hour.

Denied
Camposol’s information officer denied that it is forbidden to leave the workplace in the course of the break. “No, but we have the rule that one can not, for reasons of hygiene, bring food onto the company’s property,” she told Norwatch.

“So, they can go into own if they want to?”

“Yes, no problem,” Carnesella answered.

“That is not true,” union representative Campos said with regard to the information officer’s claim. “If we leave the property, we are at any rate not permitted to come back in again. We have been told that this is strictly forbidden,” he said.

Long Working Day
The employees speak about extremely long days at work. At 3:30 a.m. they leave home, at 4:00 a.m. they are picked up by the company’s bus, and at 4:40 a.m. the bus enters Camposol’s property. Twenty minutes later the workers sit down to eat breakfast, which they have brought from home.

At 5:30 a.m. breakfast is finished, and then there is half an hour’s meeting with information and instructions from the management.

It is not until 6:00 a.m. that they finally move out onto the fields to start the working day.

They say that the work is very hard. Later in the morning it gets burning hot, as they bend over the desert sand hour after hour. The company’s production machines whirl up dust that gusts of wind blow in across the workers. Their faces are covered throughout the working day to protect against the sun and the dust. They are only able to take a couple of short breaks during work.

At 11:00 a.m. the siesta starts, and they return to the eating area. Lunch is not included in the salary. Some of them buy warm food from a señora who brings food to the plantation every day. It costs 1 euro; if they also want breakfast, it costs them another 70 cent. Altogether it amounts to a quarter of the average salary.

The minimum wage is, according to the company,  5,2 euros (21 Peruvian soles) daily; the average wage is 7,3 euros (29 soles). From this, 11% to 13% is deducted for insurance. Norwatch spoke with ten workers who were unionised. Several of them had spouses who also worked for the company, and none of them had more than one child because the salary was not sufficient.

Not until 1:30 p.m. can they return to the fields to continue working. By then they have not only eaten and rested but also waited without pay for the asparagus to grow.

At 4:30 p.m. the working day is over, and the busses enter the plantation area to pick up the workers. They return home to their families about 5:30 p.m. It is then 10 hours until they have to get up and go to work the next day.

The workers consequently get 8 hours’ salary for remaining on the company’s area for more than 12 hours, including the forced siesta, which earlier lasted 3 hours but now has been reduced by half an hour.
If the 1800 asparagus pickers were to receive a normal wage of 60 cents an hour for the 2.5 hours they wait, this would cost the Norwegian-registered company well over 1,1 euros daily per worker.

camposol_chao5_380.jpgSensitive Plant
Asparagus, which we know from vegetable counters in Norway, is actually the bottom sprout of a 1.5-m-tall plant. The sprouts are cultivated by cutting down full-grown asparagus plants and afterwards letting new, fresh sprouts grow out.

It is these fresh sprouts that taste good.

Camposol produces them in two variants – green and white. The green ones grow out in daylight, whereas the white ones are covered with sand in the growth period.

The white ones have to be cut just before the plants grow so big that they reach daylight. If sunbeams strike the white asparagus, the plant will be discoloured and spoiled.

The workers must therefore walk along the sand piles and look for signs that the white asparagus is about to push up through the soil. Just before it does, a microscopic bulge appears in the sand, which tells the worker that the sprout is ready to be picked. It is expected that each worker digs out about 85 kg asparagus shoots daily.

FACTS: CAMPOSOL

  • Camposol is the world’s biggest exporter of the luxury vegetable asparagus.
  • It sells its products preferably to the USA and Europe.
  • It is registered only one place in the world: on the Oslo Stock Exchange.
  • The Peruvian main owner, Dyer Coriat Holding, in 2007 registered the fishery company Copeinca on the Oslo Stock Exchange. They thereby acquired good contacts which made it easy for them to register Camposol the same place a year later.
  • Orkla, Storebrand, DnB NOR, Vital and Nordea had control of 7.94% of Camposol in November last year.  

 

- Annonse -