SAO PAULO, November 17, 2008 (AFP) – The cost of slave labor in sugar cane fields should not be overlooked when promoting the virtues of ethanol, the Roman Catholic Church said Monday, as an international conference on biofuel got under way in Brazil.
“Without taking such (human) cost into account, you cannot promote the relative benefits of Brazil’s sugar and ethanol on the global market,” it added. Conference host Brazil and United States, which use sugar and corn, respectively, to process ethanol, are the world’s leading producers of the gasoline substitute that is growing in popularity worldwide.
Besides environmental concerns over the clearing of forests and jungles to grow biofuel crops, the Church’s Pastoral da Terra (CPT) commission highlighted slave labor as a blotch on the biofuel industry.
Nearly 7,000 people were freed from virtual slave labor in Brazil’s sugar cane fields from 2003 to 2008, the CPT said in a statement issued at the start of a five-day biofuel conference in Sao Paulo attended by 40 countries.
The CPT said reports of forced labor had “increased dramatically in Brazil’s sugar industry, “where the proportion of workers freed from conditions analogous to slavery went from 10 percent of the total workforce in