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"Norwegian" familyowned plantation in the Ivory Coast: Ghosts from the past

The Norwegian-related Braastad-family's company Safco is running their six pineapple-plantations and factory in the Ivory Coast like a plantation from the colonial era. Through low wages, hard work and fear of losing one's job, "the white man" has acquired a subservient workforce consisting of 1200 people - mainly imported labour from the neighbouring country of Burkina Faso.
Artikkelen er mer enn to år gammel. Ting kan ha endret seg.
The Norwegian-related Braastad-family's company Safco is running their six pineapple-plantations and factory in the Ivory Coast like a plantation from the colonial era. Through low wages, hard work and fear of losing one's job, "the white man" has acquired a subservient workforce consisting of 1200 people - mainly imported labour from the neighbouring country of Burkina Faso.


By Harald Eraker
Norwatch

- The work at the plantations is slavelabour. We are poorly paid for very hard work. In order to buy a sack of rice you have to spend a month's wage, say plantation workers in one of the colonies where fourteen families live, NorWatch is told.

Their daily salary is roughly USD 1. In a month, with six days week, this adds up to approximately USD 24, which is the price of a 50 kilo sack of rice. Tax is deducted from their salaries as well as rent for the sheds in which they live.

However, they are not sure what they are deducted for and the amount. Most of the plantation workers at Safco comes from the neighbouring country Burkina Faso, and are illiterate.

Dangerous to complain
From the first moment we are greeted with worrid glances and fear, and we are asked not to print their names. The plantationworkers are afraid of losing their jobs, a fact which is confirmed by local inhabitants of Tiassale.

Astrid and Robert Braastad's pineapple-plantations is situated 120 kilometers from the capitol of Abidjan. Robert Braastad is the son of Sverre Braastad who emigrated from the Norwegian town Gjøvik, and became a cognac-producer in France. His son Robert moved to the Ivory Coast and is a french citizen. However, in a number of articles he refer to Safco as a Norwegian firm and Gjøvik as his hometown.

- The reason why Safco hires laborers from Burkina Faso is that they do not dare to complain over the pay and working conditions. Most people from the IvoryCoast are not willing to work for such starvation wages, says a former Safco-employee from Tiassale, who is afraid to reveal his name.

Plantationworkers tell that they recently had plans to strike as Safco had not paid them in two months.

- But they threatened us with laying us off, so the strike never took place. Often we are not paid on time, but no one dare to ask why, says one of the plantation-workers.

- The Braastad-family has got connections at the top here in Tiassale, both in the police and in the bureaucracy. That is why plantation-workers do not dare to complain over the working conditions, says the former Safco-employee.

Three days' wage
Safco consists of six pineappleplantations, covering a total of 2810 hectares, and a factory in Tiassale which produces fruitjuice and canned pineapples. On one of the plantations we meet a team of workers who quickly gathers and carries pineapples in the blazing sun  - under close surveillance of a supervisor.

Every pineapple is counted and added to the inventory, and nobody dares talk to us in this situation. Further away a woman is working alone removing weeds with a scythe on a large field. Her year-old infant lies between the endless rows of pineapples, and is being tended by her bigger, five-year old sister. A small piece of cloth works as bedding.

- Safco takes very good care of their pineapples. I have counted every pineapple on the plantation. If you are caught stealing even just one pineapple, they deduct three days' wages, or in the worst case you are fired, says one of the workers who are guiding us around. In order to get by, most of the workers try to grow food for themseves and their families wherever possible between the plantations. Or they work extra in the evening.

Pain
The Braastad-family's plantations are one of Norsk Hydro's customers in the Ivory Coast. In the capitol Abidjan, Hydro is running the fertilizerplant Hydrochem in a joint venture with a French company. According to Hydro's Profile magazine, Safco annually buys approximately 1000 tonnes of chemical fertilizer from Hydrochem. The fertilizer is distributed on every singe plant with a teaspoon.

The plantationworkers are also complaining over the fact that they have to work with weed killers which makes them sick. They have been told that the chemicals they use, including Calaxon, are dangerous, and that they have to wash their hands carefully after cleaning the machinery.

- Often we suffer from stomachaches and sore eyes, they tell us, but they evidently know little about what consequences this has for their health.

It has been impossible  to get in touch with the Braastad-family, both before and after the visit to the Safco plantations. Numerous faxes and letters have so far not been answered. Astrid and Robert Braastad were abroad during NorWatch's visit to the plantations, and their son Jan was not in Tiassale. Jan has taken over the executive responsibility of Safco together with Robert's nephew Nicolas Guillerme.

But NorWatch's impression is that the white plantation-master is a well known and feared person among the plantationworkers.

"The work at plantations is slavelabor. We are poorly paid for very hard work."
Plantationworkers at Safco

Safco on the Ivory Coast
The pineapplecompany Safco was founded in 1949 by Robert Braastad, son of Sverre Brastad from Gjøvik, Norway, who made it big as a cognac-producer in France. Today the company consists of six pineappleplantations and a factory producing fruitjuice and canned pineapples. Most of the production is shipped through Marseilles, France to the European market.

Safco is employing approximately 1200 wokers, mainly from the neighbouring country of Burkina Faso.
   
"The reason why Safco imports laborers from Burkina Faso, is that they do not dare complain over the salary and the working-conditions."
Former employee at Safco

"If you are caught stealing a single pineapple, they deduct three days' wage"
Plantationworker at Safco

Norwatch Newsletter 15/97