The $720 million açaí industry is fueled by child labor

In an eye-opening piece for The Washington Post, journalist Terrence McCoy reports on the young children “toiling on the bottom rung” of the açaí industry “that connects some of Brazil’s poorest people to America’s health-absorbed elite.” This includes children like José Armando Matos de Lima, an 11-year-old boy who on any given day is responsible for collecting more than 450 pounds of the wildly popular purple fruit. Açaí pickers are often children because the trunk of these 60-foot fruit trees are tall and thin and cannot sustain a great deal of weight. The Brazilian government does not keep track of how many children work the harvest, but researchers say the practice is widespread—and the work can be deadly. Two boys, ages 13 and 14, never returned from the forests of Amapá state while in pursuit of what has become one of the world’s trendiest foods. Bone fractures, accidental knife wounds, and venomous snake and spider bites are also common risks. The United States, where smoothies and health bowls feature the pitted and pulped fruit, is the largest açaí consumer outside of Brazil, fueling the fruit’s $720 million market. —Tina Vasquez

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