FIOH's insult that SAFCO is running a "Norwegian" plantation "by the norms of colonial times" like an "IMAGE OF THE PAST", and other statements, like "the work on the plantations is slavery work", "Dangerous to complain" and "SAFCO fetches foreign workers from Burkina Faso" are not only positively erroneous, they are also very libellous and wounding.
We are much in wonder that the work of Your organization, which according to Your own statement is "based on systematic collection of documentation, through all kinds of sources from scientific analysis to subjective experiences by affected people, and which aims to "tie together both positive and blameworthy aspects" in this case has proved to be inadequate and subjective. Also, Your statement that "We are happy to discuss conditions related to controversial countries or sectors with your company" is contradicted by the fact that we have had so much trouble in getting heard in Your publications.
Here are a few facts:
1. The SAFCO company is a limited company in which none of the shareholders are Norwegian
Hence, it is not a "Norwegian plantation". SAFCO, SociŠtŠ Africaine de Conserverie has never been "Norwegian-run" or "Norwegian-owned". If FIOH had done their journalistic work well, the NorWatch project would have found that:
- the company is organised according to the laws of the Ivory Coast
- none of the shareholders are Norwegian
- Robert Braastad is retired, and is no longer active in SAFCO
- Robert Braastad is only a minority shareholder in SAFCO
Robert Braastad's father, who migrated to France, was Norwegian. Astrid Braastad is still a Norwegian citizen, and our family still has a close tie to Norway. However, it takes more than this to make SAFCO a Norwegian company!
2. SAFCO is not an "image of the past", running the plantation by the norms of colonial times.
As the Ivory Coast gained autonomy in 1960, it is no longer a colony. The Ivory Coast is a country founded on the rule of law, and our company abides the laws of the country. Your article undermines exactly this, by using phrases like "children working" and "slavery work". Throughout SAFCO's almost 50 years in operation, it has never employed any children. However, just like in Norway, youth may be employed in summer holidays for summer jobs. It is common that mothers in Africa, like in Asia, bring their youngest children to their agricultural workplace. In no way whatsoever may these children be seen as workers!
Minimum wages are determined by the Government, and beyond this, extra is given according to education, seniority and age, just like in Norway. There is no denying that wages are low, especially in the agricultural sector, but the first (1) category of workers are beginners, and according to tariff, their daily wage should be around CFA 428,-. At SAFCO the corresponding wage, is CFA 500,- plus 100,- as a bonus for piecework. The tariff represent a minimum wage, subdivided into 10 levels, and presupposes piecework compounded by a quantity element (which gives reason for counting the harvested pineapples!) and an element of time. When the necessary quantity is achieved, the daily wage is earned. Normally, this takes around 3-4 hours, and afterwards the workers are free to go home, or they may take another piecework contract, which is what many choose to do.
3. Foreign workers from Burkina Faso voluntarily come to the Ivory Coast, and nobody "fetches" them from there as cheap labour
They voluntarily come to the Ivory Coast to get jobs, because there are no jobs in their home country, and because wages are higher in the Ivory Coast than in their own country. It has nothing to do with them being more illiterate than other people.
4. Generally, wages in Africa are low, in order that the West shall be able to increase its standard of living.
Of course, there are great problems in Africa, and for many, the standard of living has not increased in latter years. However, the FIOH/NorWatch project should rather investigate the situation in which the African trades and industries find themselves, rather than to criticize small and medium sized companies which are already struggling for survival in today's markets.
SAFCO is a cornerstone company for the TIASSALE municipality, as it provides work for a large portion of the municipality's population. It has actively contributed to the municipality's development, something which local authorities has confirmed on several occasions. Labelling the company as an "exploiter" is not fair.
Year by year prices on export goods have decreased, whereas prices on imported goods necessary to production are ever increasing. A company like SAFCO exports 95% of its products (juice, fresh fruit), and is paid according to market rates. To illustrate this: 50 years ago, a farmer from the Ivory Coast could buy a sack of cement by selling 2 kilos of cocoa. Today, he will have to sell almost 20 kilos of cocoa, i.e. 10 times more. So who is to blame?
Unfortunately, we do not see how the kind of journalism done by FIOH in this matter has helped in pointing out the real problems in Africa. You have been barking up the wrong tree, and it hurt us all the more after a long and sometimes difficult life with plantation work in the Ivory Coast.
Astrid and Robert Braastad
Norwatch Newsletter 10/98