Brazilian groups lash out at Stora Enso pulp mill
"Company does not monitor subcontractors", says union report
The Veracel pulp mill, owned jointly by the Finnish Stora Enso and the Brazilian Aracruz Celulose, has become the target of trade unions and civic groups in Brazil.
A study released in Helsinki on Wednesday sharply criticises Veracel, accusing it of destroying natural diversity, pushing down wages, and using questionable subcontractors.
The Trade Union Solidarity Centre of Finland (SASK) and the Finnish Paperworker's Union, commissioned a report from the Observatorio Social, a research institute run by the Brazilian trade union movement, in which the operations of Veracel were monitored during the plant's initial phases in 2004-2005.
In its study, Observatorio Social interviewed regional non-governmental organisations, trade unions, Veracel itself, its subcontractors, and local officials.
"The greatest problem is that Veracel uses many subcontractors and is not able to monitor them all satisfactorily", says the institute's researcher Ana Yara Paulino.
Paulino says that companies hired by Veracel circumvent labour contract terms by complaining of economic difficulties. Also, union sources complain of exposure to poisons, inadequate health services, and even deaths among workers hired by subcontractors.
According to the study, 50 subcontractors were used at the Veracel construction site, employing about 3,300 people.
After the factory was started up, subcontractors have been used mainly in the production of eucalyptus as raw material for the plant. Veracel wants to focus on the actual production of pulp, and to hire local companies to deal with other tasks.
Stora Enso concedes some of the points of the study. However, it says that it has no knowledge of any deaths. In addition, Eija Pitkänen, the company's spokeswoman for corporate responsibility, says that the workers are given regular medical checkups.
She also says that Veracel takes issue with inadequate working conditions among subcontractors immediately whenever it hears of such practices.
"In one company, those working with chemicals washed their own work clothes at home. We told the subcontractor that this is not appropriate, and the situation was changed."
Veracel has had to cancel contracts with a few subcontractors. "For instance, the proprietor of one eucalyptus plantation had economic difficulties, and cut costs by not paying wages. It was a reason to cancel the contract", Pitkänen said.
Pitkänen attributes much of the criticism to cultural differences, and to the fact that Veracel has to negotiate with several different trade unions and civic groups.
"When we proposed that the UN Development Fund might investigate conditions at Veracel objectively, local civic groups could not agree on whether or not the UN is impartial enough", Pitkänen noted.
Observatorio Social found other shortcomings at Veracel, but noted that impartial information is often hard to come by.
While environmental groups say that eucalyptus plantations excessively deplete water resources, Veracel says that it protects water resources by monitoring the distances between the plantations and rivers and valleys.
Civic groups have charged that Veracel poisons the soil with excessive use of pesticides, while Veracel says that the poisons are used only as a last resort.
Ana Yara Paulino says that there is no impartial information available on the use of the chemicals.
Observatorio Social also complains that Veracel pays low wages.
"Wages vary between 500 and 800 euros [a month]. Considering that the employees are also entitled to day care, housing, health insurance, and pensions, it is not at all bad by local standards", Eija Pitkänen says.
Trade Union Solidarity Centre of Finland SASK