The Brazilian farm workers exploited to harvest an everyday ingredient

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Carnauba wax might not be familiar to you, but it’s used in various products like sweets, pills, lipstick, and mascara to prevent melting and as a thickening agent. In Brazil’s Piauí state, many people work in the carnauba wax industry, harvesting wax from carnauba palm trees to make a living. However, there are issues with big companies exploiting workers.

Recently, inspectors from different government agencies conducted raids in Piauí to investigate the working conditions in the carnauba wax industry. They found workers living in poor conditions and being paid very little, often not even enough to support themselves year-round.

Workers endure difficult and dangerous conditions, cutting down leaves from the top of palm trees using handmade tools. Safety equipment is often lacking, putting workers at risk of injury.

The authorities issued fines to the employers for various violations, but many workers still feel trapped because they have no other way to earn money.

The carnauba wax industry is complex, with many small producers involved. Although big companies like Brasil Ceras, which supplies to companies like L’Óreal, have committed to improving working conditions, there are still issues with exploitation and informality in the industry. Investigators believe that without support from big companies, it’s challenging to address these problems effectively.

The informality in the carnauba wax industry makes it difficult to trace the wax back to big companies. In 2016, the Ministry of Labour asked major wax processing companies to improve their supply chains and end exploitation. Despite commitments from companies like Brasil Ceras, there are still concerns about exploitation in the industry.

Federal investigators believe that even though companies have pledged to be responsible, many continue to ignore the problems. The lack of oversight allows illegal practices to persist, with workers facing poor conditions and low wages.

Inspector Gislene Melo dos Santos Stacholski believes that without support from big companies, it’s hard to solve these issues. The industry benefits from turning a blind eye to the problems, as they avoid the need to invest or improve conditions for workers.

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