Exhibition offers intimate look at life of sugarcane cutters

Thousands of sugarcane cutters in Central America are affected by Chronic Kidney Disease (CKDnT). Recent scientific advances indicate that the disease is linked to their labour circumstances. Solidaridad and La Isla Foundation are working with a broad range of cutting-edge organizations to develop, validate and disseminate the use of better labour practices. Simple innovations have already greatly improved working conditions while also increasing labour productivity.

Commissioned by Solidaridad, an exhibition of Ed Kashi’s photographs titled “Sugarcane, Fuel for Change” will be on view at the Melkweg Expo in Amsterdam from 29 August to 4 October.

Kashi traveled this year to Nicaragua and El Salvador to capture the life of cane cutters in pictures. The hard labour and constant heat has caused an epidemic of chronic renal failure among these workers. However, the situation is not hopeless. Solidaridad is currently working with a sugarcane factory in El Salvador where they have seen a drastic improvement in working conditions.

A story of hope and change

Sugarcane is everywhere in our daily lives. We use it not only as food and fuel, but we also use it for plastic, jeans and shampoo. However, the working conditions in sugarcane production are often very poor. Ed Kashi went to Central America to capture the living and working conditions of cane cutters. His images tell a story of hope and strength about the possibility of change. It is a story about opportunities for a better life, about injustice and about the solutio
ns for how an entire community can escape from despair and gain insight into how to build a better future.

Improving conditions while increasing productivity

Solidaridad’s experience in working toward improved labour practices in Central America offers an example of improving the position of labourers in agricultural supply chains. Many of them work under unacceptable conditions earning a meagre salary reflecting their poor position and relative inefficiency. Their situation tends to remain unnoticed, unless there is a disaster and the international community can no longer turn a blind eye. When that happens, the immediate response is a call for increased regulation. While this may sometimes be helpful, we believe it is often better to take a real look to see where opportunities for improvement can be created by examining labour practices. There is a world of potential out there that is just waiting to be unlocked.

Inspiring event in Amsterdam

Their story will be shared at an inspirational opening of the “Sugarcane, Fuel for Change” exhibition during a business event about how to improve working conditions. It’s an intimate look at how we organize our economy, about how we look at labour and how we treat the people working for our daily products. If people are living in poverty and dying during the production of our plastics, sugar, cotton, chocolate and many more products we enjoy every day, something is wrong. People are dying cutting sugarcane, getting sick producing our T-shirts and living in poverty to grow our cocoa beans for chocolate.

This event is about how we look at today’s world and about how we organize our supply chains. Equally important, it’s about how we perceive today’s labourers, human beings like you and me. We should bring together supply chain actors and engage them in innovative solutions to improve production, ensuring the transition to a sustainable and inclusive economy that maximises the benefit for all.