Thursday, March 15, 2007

Brazil's Ethanol Slaves

200,000 migrant sugar cutters who prop up renewable energy boom. Tom Phillips in Palmares Paulista. March 9, 2007

Behind rusty gates, the heart of Brazil's energy revolution can be found in the stale air of a squalid red-brick tenement building. Inside, dozens of road-weary migrant workers are crammed into minuscule cubicles, filled with rickety bunk-beds and unpacked bags, preparing for their first day at work in the sugar plantations of Sao Paulo.

This is Palmares Paulista, a rural town 230 miles from Sao Paulo and the centre of a South American renewable energy boom that is transforming Brazil into a global reference point on how to cut carbon emissions and oil imports at the same time.

Inside the prison-like construction are the cortadores de cana - sugar cane cutters - part of a destitute migrant workforce of about 200,000 men who help prop up Brazil's ethanol industry.

(Click here to read more)