Radio Netherlands Worldwide | 17 January 2011
[An abridged translation of two, more detailed articles, the first from Página/12 of Buenos Aires for January 2, the second from La Jornada of Mexico City for January 8 is available here. See original articles here and here.]
Argentinian authorities have accused the Dutch grain merchant Nidera – one of the largest agri-industry corporations in the world - of human trafficking and tax evasion.
When Argentinian police raided a Nidera plantation near Buenos Aires on 30 December, they found 133 seasonal workers living under conditions that Julio Caraballo, health and safety inspector in San Pedro, said resembled "a concentration camp". Seven of the company's executives were arrested and Nidera was fined 125,000 euros. In addition, the Argentinian tax authorities suspect Nidera of evading 49 million euros in taxes between 2005-2009.
Labour Minister Oscar Cuartango says the conditions under which the workers lived and worked bordered on “crimes against humanity”. Two holes in the ground served as toilets, a container for pesticides was used as a bath. They had no electricity, very little drinking water and were not allowed to leave the plantation. The workers were charged exorbitant amounts for food and water, and earned almost no money.
Nidera has denied all charges, claiming that it's “a local issue”. The company refused to comment on the arrests of seven of its executives and says it has not received official notification of the alleged tax evasion.
Nidera produces and trades in soy, rice and various seeds and grains, and is active in 22 countries.
In Argentinia, the Nidera investigation is seen as an important victory in the government’s campaign against the exploitation of farm workers. The Nidera plantation is seen as symptomatic of the situation in Argentinian agriculture. Hundreds of thousands of agricultural workers are believed to be working illegally and under very poor circumstances.