1.Argentina: Slavery in Monsanto's cornfield
2.Amyris, extreme GM biofuels firm, nosedives
1.Argentina: Slavery in Monsanto's cornfields
eats shoots n leaves, January 19 2012
The news from Argentina sounds very similar to the reports of slave labor on Brazilian latifundias [previously]: Poor workers recruited under false pretenses, then confined and forced to work long hours for little pay.
The first story we'll excerpt calls conditions "slave-like," but if in fact the workers were confined against their will and forced to work, then it’s not simply slave-like. It's slavery.
First, from the Associated Press:
"Argentina’s tax agency has raided a Monsanto Co. contractor and found what it calls slave-like conditions among workers in its cornfields.
The AFIP tax agency says Rural Power SA hired all its farmhands illegally, prevented them from leaving the fields and withheld their salaries. They had to de-tassel corn 14 hours a day and buy their food at inflated prices from the company store.
AFIP says it will hold the American agro-giant responsible for its contractor’s slave-like labor conditions."
We found more details in a story by Alejandro Rebossio for Madrid's El País, including the name of the contractor, which tuns out to be another giant U.S.-born multinational.
We're using Google translate for this excerpt, which includes a corporate response:
"U.S. companies Monsanto, manufacturer of seeds and agrochemicals, and Manpower , a provider of temporary employment services were reported on Monday by Argentina's tax agency for alleged human trafficking. On one farm in the municipality of Salto (186 miles northwest of Buenos Aires), the IRS found 86 workers deflowered . . corn in the southern summer without being registered with the Social Security and without the possibility of leaving the premises by choice.
The tax agency claimed in court that Rural Power , a subsidiary of Manpower, had recruited most of the [workers] in a poor province in northern Argentina, Santiago del Estero, to work in the land of Monsanto. The workers said they were promised a “decent work”. Manpower had signed up for Social Security on 10 December, but the next day he retired.
"The company I was forbidden to exit the premises without prior permission of the management," said the tax agency. He also reported working 14 hours without rest or overtime pay, "wages were withheld and were obliged to pay the food they ate their own employer at a very superior" to the market. After a month and six days of work, each of the 86 laborers were charged 36 euros for "advance".
A Monsanto spokesman responded to the complaint, saying that his company "always" has maintained a policy of respect for human rights and in many respects had been a pioneer in improving working conditions for farm laborers, even before the end of last year passed a law to that effect. Manpower said it "maintains a strict policy against human trafficking” and “provides employment opportunities and always in good condition as required by law." "
[The Spanish original is here.
The main difference between the latest report from Argentina and earlier reports from Brazil are the differences in the crops involved.
In Brazil, slavery is found on the massive sugar cane plantations which serve as the source of the "feedstock" for agrofuel companies like the UC Berkeley-spawned Amyris, while the Argentinian slaves are being forced to work corn plantations.
Students of history will note the similarities between Latin America's contemporary slavery and the slavery of the Antebellum U.S. South. In both cases, owners used cheap, expendable forced labor to ensure the greatest possible profits from vast monoculture plantations.
2.Amyris, Cal-spawned agrofuel firm, nosedives
eats shoots n leaves, February 10 2012
Shares of Amyris, the agrofuel firm, started by a UC Berkeley bioengineer with cash from Bill Gates, have taken yet another disastrous hit, hitting an all-time low of $6.85 a share today before recovering [if that's the word] to $6.93 as we write.
Here’s a devastating analysis from Eric Rosenbaum of The Street:
"[T]he worst sector recently foisted on the investing public by the IPO underwriters has nothing to do with the Internet. It’s rather companies in the biofuels and bioproducts arena have been the real IPO sucker's bet.
On Friday, Amyris(AMRS), taken public by Goldman Sachs(GS) and Morgan Stanley(MS), pulled its 2012 guidance and said it would need to raise a dilutive round of private financing to shore up the balance sheet.
Amyris shares promptly tanked nearly 30%, bringing the company’s all-time return since its IPO to negative 60%. The company priced at $16 in 2010 and now is trading under $7."
Amyris reached an all-time high of $33.89 on 27 January 2011.
We'll just repeat what we wrote earlier this week:
The company was started by UC Berkeley bioengineer Jay Keasling, who has since left to head Cal’s Department of Energy-funded Joint BioEnergy Institute, conveniently located upstairs from Amyris headquarters in an Emeryville office building.
JBEI is one of the labs scheduled to relocate in the new billion-dollar-plus complex planned by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in Richmond.
Amyris has set itself the goal of producing transportation fuels from cellulose, also the goal of both JBEI and the Energy Biosciences Institute, that $500 million BP-funded lab at UC Berkeley bankrolled by BP.
A former BP executive, John Melo, runs Amyris.
It really is a small world, aint it?