Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Fueling Slavery

Though practiced throughout history, slavery in the modern era was intricately linked to our love of sugar. The wholesale enslavement and exportation of Africans to grow sugar in the Caribbean fed the newly found European sweet tooth. In 1700, the inhabitants of the British Empire, for example, consumed an average of four pounds of sugar a year, and many Africans paid with their freedom and their lives to feed this Western craving for sweets. (source)

Fast forward to the post-modern age. Today, the average American consumes one hundred pounds of sugar each year, so there is pressure on markets to produce sugar cheaply and in large quantities. However, hunger for energy alternatives such as ethanol is fueling an increase in slavery in Brazil.

Anywhere between 25,000 and 200,000 Brazilians are what are known as “debt
slaves.” Their employers keep them in perpetual bondage by charging them “exorbitant rates for the food, water, clothes and the tools they work with.”
Because their wages are so low, the workers can never pay off the “debt” and, thus, can never leave.

They work “from sunrise to sunset, seven days a week.” They are housed in “straw shacks.” They are given one meal a day, which they are often forced to eat standing up. They receive no medical attention and have no “access to toilets or good hygiene.” Many of them die from malaria.

If they decide they have had enough of the exploitation, the slave masters, known as gatos, threaten them with death. They are not bluffing. The gatos employ militias to intimidate and even kill human-rights workers—imagine what they would do to runaway slaves.

As in the rest of the world, Brazilian slavery is made possible because people live in such poverty. Like the victims of sexual trafficking, desperate people are lured by false promises only to be trapped.
-breakpoint (click the link for addition news stories)

If ethanol is leading to such oppression, I'd rather stick with oil for now. Oh, and it wouldn't hurt America's waistline any to cut back on sugar consumption either.

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At 5/03/2007 6:55 PM, Blogger Thomas said...

When sugar took off in Europe, fueling slavery, war and a myriad of other forms of nasty and immoral business it wasn't just because Europeans liked things to taste sweet. 4 pounds of sugar a year, think on that. The average European for that time had, by today's standards, an amazingly low caloric intake. Everyone, save royalty, lived on the edge of starvation much of the time. Refined sugar gives someone like that a killer buzz. Sugar was a drug, not just a foodstuff.

As for oil, the ethanol being produced in Brazil is being mostly used in Brazil, which is the world's biggest consumer of fuel alcohol while most American ethanol is produced domestically. Even if it weren't, though, we'd be left with the choice between supporting a presidential republic that is struggling with some sever human rights issues and supporting militant theocracies in the middle east and a communist leaning dictatorship in S. America.


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