Notice: Do you know who picks your acai berries?


I have eaten acai berry, I am one of those Americans who aspire to be healthier, especially if I can do it by putting a few berries in a smoothie.

Acai, which to me tastes a lot like dull blueberries, is said to be packed with antioxidants, vitamins, and fiber. They are said to promote energy, healthy digestion and even a rosier complexion.

But how does açaí berry end up from the treetops of the Brazilian Amazon in the açaí bowls that sell in San Francisco, Austin, and West Des Moines?

Many are picked by children.

This week, an exemplary report by Terrence McCoy in The Washington Post put faces and names to some of these young workers.

José Armando Matos from Lima is 11 years old. Her brother, Izomar, is 10 years old. Acai palms are slender and regularly grow to over 60 feet tall. Most of an adult could break them. So the boys climb the trees with knives on their belts and burlap wrapped around their feet.

Their father, João, 51, still climbs with them. But he fell from a tree ten years ago and injured his back. Terrence McCoy says João’s feet are swollen and his body is scarred by acidic bee sputum. He needs his sons to help him choose açaí to support his family.

The To post It is estimated that 120,000 families in the Amazon region harvest acai for a growing global market. The Fair for Life program awards fair trade certificates to participating businesses that import and sell açaí, under phrases such as “ethically sourced and hand-picked”.

“But this is one of those situations where certifications shouldn’t be allowed,” Charity Ryerson told NPR. She is the founder of the Corporate Accountability Lab, which investigates abuse at work. “Brazilian acai is largely harvested from the wild,” she says. “It is not clear what would be monitored and who would even identify where the harvesters work or who they work for.”

Manoel Potiguar, one of the authors of a 2016 study by the state labor court, told the To post, “I would say there is a 90% chance that the acai someone ate in the United States was produced unfairly. The study found that someone in almost every family who harvest acai was injured, sometimes catastrophically.

It is difficult, and often frustrating, to trace the ethical origins of everything we eat. But once we know, can we turn away? Acai berries can be healthy for us. But what harm do they do to the small and young hands that pick up so much?

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