Orange juice

Workers in the orange juice industry are exploited

The situation on Brazilian orange plantations is precarious for most of the orange pickers. There are frequent labor law violations: workers do not get days off, there are illegal deductions of their wages, plantation owners do not comply with health and safety regulations – and these are just some examples of what is going on.

The main fruit juice producers are held responsible

Die Grafik skizziert die Orangensaft-Lieferkette von der Plantage bis in den Supermarkt.
Grafik: Marco Fischer/CIR

Germany is one of the countries with the highest juice consumption per capita. Half of the globally produced orange juice is manufactured in Brazil. 80 percent of the frozen orange juice concentrate, which is the base of most orange juices that are sold in Germany, comes from Brazil. The biggest importer is the European Union, which buys two thirds of all exports; approximately 17 percent are imported to Germany.
The oranges are mostly grown in single-crop farming. All juice factories are owned by only three companies which control the entire market: Cutrale, Citrosuco and Louis Dreyfus. The market concentration of bottle fillers and in retail in the EU is rising.
The workers who pick the oranges under precarious circumstances, who operate the juice extractors and who fill our shelves, are ignored when it comes to the vitamin rich juice. The CIR fights for the rights of the people who work in the supply chain, the juice industry and on the plantations and gives them a voice.

Orangenbaum auf brasilianischer Plantage
Foto: Sandra Dusch Silva/CIR

Diese einfachen Leitern werden bei der Ernte einfach and ie Bäume gelehnt, ein hohes Risiko. Arbeiter*innen stürzen nicht selten.
Foto: Sandra Dusch Silva/CIR

Foto: Sandra Dusch Silva/CIR

Foto: Sandra Dusch Silva/CIR

Zwei Arbeiter füllen einen Großsack mit geernteten Orangen auf einer brasilianischen Plantage
Foto: Plantagenarbeiter/CIR

Foto: Sandra Dusch Silva/CIR

Brazil, market leader in orange production

Foto: Attila Vizi/Water Film

Brazil produces one third of the world’s oranges and about half of the worldwide orange juice is from Brazil. In the FCOJ sector, the Brazilian share of the world market is around 80 per cent. The federal state of Sao Paulo alone produces around half of the fruit juice concentrate which is consumed worldwide. Brazil produces 98 per cent of its orange juice for export. The biggest buyer of Brazilian orange juice concentrate is the European Union, which imports nearly two thirds of the Brazilian output.
Oranges are cultivated on plantations with gigantic dimensions. The trees and the soil are tended mechanically. As the fruits aren’t all ripe at the same time, the harvest of the fruits needs to be done manually by workers. As with all products promising a high margin, there is high pressure to increase efficiency and decrease costs. Since oranges are grown for industrial processing, a large yield is necessary. There has been a large increase in the production of oranges over the last thirty years due to denser cultivation. Larger plantations can easily provide products according to specific national regulations regarding the use of herbicides and specific labeling of the packaging.
These monocultures are susceptible to pests and plant diseases. Therefore they need to be treated with herbicides. The production costs have nearly doubled in recent years, mostly due to the higher costs for fuel and fertilizers. Many peasants had to give up their land due to the price policy of the big juice multinationals and had to sell their farming land below the market price. Market prices which do not cover the production costs have increased the army of landless plantation workers. To be able to compete on the fiercely competitive market, a concentration process in all areas of the orange juice production chain takes place.
Today, many small and few large orange producers face three multinational processing companies. In the 1980s, the leading players on the market absorbed smaller companies or pushed them out of the market. Today, there are only three major players on the market: Cutrale, Citrosuco and Louis Dreyfus. These companies control the global juice market.
The concentration on the market gives the remaining three companies enormous market power over the orange producers and the opportunity to keep the orange price below the production costs. To keep their monopoly, the big companies like Citrosuco, Cutrale and Louis Dreyfus buy their own port terminals in Europe, the US and Asia and use dumping prices to push other competitors out of the market. Whenever such a monopoly is established, unilateral price ranges and deadlines, criticizing product quality and therefore not paying reasonable prices or breach of contract occur on a regular basis.

Job security?

Most of the workers on the plantations in the federal state of Sao Paulo are migrants or residents of nearby rural communities, mostly men between 30 and 49 years with poor education. In 2011, only 52,000 of the 238,000 workers on the plantations had a full-time contract. It is common on the plantations to provide workers only with a seasonal contract. Due to short-term contracts, the workers are under constant pressure to be extremely productive because, otherwise, they would lose the option to get work in the next harvest season.
Generally, plantation workers are not directly employed by the multinational companies but by contractors (e.g. employment agencies or labor contractors). Overall, it can be stated that there is a high employee turnover on the orange plantations. The labor contractors pay the workers themselves and therefore always know how much each of them works a day. The labor contractors receive a provision according to the productivity of their workers and also supervise their workers.


In general, the workers carry a sack and climb the tree with ladders. When the sacks are full (up to 30 kg), the workers climb down and fill the collected oranges into “bags”. Each fruit picker has their own ”bag” and is paid according to the content of the “bag”. Usually, one bag contains around 50 to 60 boxes.
To achieve the monthly minimum wage of 690 Reales in the federal state of Sao Paulo, a worker has to collect approximately 60 boxes per day. Workers in Brazil earn an average of around nine Euros a day for harvesting nearly 2 tons of oranges. According to a study by Brazilian unions, the subsistence level in Brazil is around 14 Euros a day.

Working hours

The official hours of work are 44 hours a week and the workers are entitled to a one-hour lunch break every day. But the pressure on the workers is so high that they often skip their lunch break and therefore actually work longer hours. During the harvest season, it is expected from the workers to work on weekends, which means they have no recovery time. There are no adequate break rooms on the plantations so that the workers eat either in buses or in the fields. If there are break rooms, they are often used as storage for empty sacks or bottles of chemicals.
Piecework is common practice on the plantations and in the factories. The interviewees said that the topic of productivity was omnipresent and that is was the main criterion for measuring the performance of the workers. Cutrale is also accused of pressuring their workers to work two or three extra hours per day on a regular basis and not to take breaks. During the orange harvest season, the working hours in the factories are increased to as many as 14 hours a day without proper payment.

Occupational health, safety and sanitary facilities

Workers from all companies complained that the ladders they are provided with are not adequate, which leads to injuries and accidents. There is only one size of ladders. However, orange trees are of different heights and workers are in danger when they pick fruits on high orange trees. Back pain and aches in their arms and shoulders are the most common issues. Often chemicals are sprayed onto the fields while fruit pickers are still working in the fields. This leads to allergic reactions and other damage to the workers’ health. The containers with the agrochemicals aren’t handled properly, which leads to eyestrains and headaches.
One of the union activists reported that workers had to go out onto the field right after it was sprayed with chemicals. Particularly tractor drivers are exposed to the dangers of agrochemicals as the tractors don’t have a booth which could protect the drivers from inhaling chemicals. The labor contractors also hire workers from communities further away and it’s the labor contractors who are responsible for providing them with adequate accommodation.
But workers often complain that the accommodation provided is appalling as there is no furniture (beds, tables, chairs), no sanitary facilities or access to drinking water. It is extremely hot in the factory buildings, the lighting is insufficient and it’s very loud. The air is not good as oil is burned inside the buildings and the workers inhale the fumes due to the lack of a ventilation system.


Research shows that there is unequal treatment of men and women in the factories and on the plantations. According to information from trade unions, most men have a fixed contract while female workers usually only get a limited contract. This and the additional responsibilities within their families is a major reason why hardly any women support union activities. In addition to their poorer economic position and discrimination, women are also victims of physical, mental and sexual assaults.
The female workers are under high pressure not to miss work due to family issues and one female worker reported the she was asked by her supervisor if her work or her children were more important to her. There have been union reports about Cutrale and LDC laying off pregnant women and female workers with children. In addition to gender-related discrimination, there are also other humiliations on the plantations, such as verbal abuse.

Freedom of Assembly

On the plantations and in the factories, there is a strong dislike of union activities. Workers who support union activities risk losing their jobs. Sometimes it is enough to be seen with a union activist in the street or in a bar to end up on a “blacklist”. Workers on the blacklist will not be given work in the next harvest season.
In several cases, Cutrale laid off union activists and strikers. According to a union activist, it is common practice for the companies to finance union activities to manipulate the tariff agreements. As a result, workers often question the integrity of the union activists and don’t acknowledge them as their official representatives.

Porträt von Sandra Dusch Silva

If you have any questions, feel free to ask me:

Sandra Dusch Silva
Contact person for clothes, food, seals and labels, supermarkets and Brazil
Phone: +49 (0) 30  41723800

Porträt von Andrea de Moraes Barros

If you have any questions, feel free to ask me:

Andrea de Moraes Barros
Contact person for orange juice
Phone: +49 (0) 251  674413 23