BUENOS AIRES – Activists behind a documentary that denounces cases of child labor in yerba mate fields in northeastern Argentina are looking to spearhead change through legal channels and by bringing the film to a global audience.
The picture shows the children surviving on just two daily meals – usually a fried flour dish known as “reviro” – and enduring work days of up to 12 hours.
“I Like Mate without Chile Labor,” produced by the media company Posibl. and recently brought before the Argentine Senate, is the product of a campaign launched by Patricia Ocampo and Jorge Kordi and aimed at exposing the poverty that afflicts the “tareferos,” or pickers of yerba mate, the source of a caffeine-rich beverage known as mate that is Argentina’s national drink.
The creators of the film are now trying to have it screened at next year’s Cannes Film Festival.
Members of the non-governmental organization Un Sueño para Misiones (A Dream for Misiones) were donating books in that northeastern Argentine province when they uncovered the use of child labor in the yerba mate fields, a problem they say dates back hundreds of years.
“In 2013, there was an accident in which one of the trucks coming from the harvest in Misiones overturned with 14 children on board, three of whom died,” Ocampo said in an interview with EFE.
The lawyer, a native of Misiones, says children as young as five accompany their parents and help them gather the yerba mate, “initially as a game.”
The NGO is trying to get a bill passed to create a certification system and have a “No Child Labor” seal applied to brands of mate produced by tareferos who work under dignified conditions.
They have also launched a petition on the Web site change.org that has gathered more than 62,000 signatures expressing support for the bill. Those signatures are to be submitted to Argentine Labor Minister Jorge Triaca and the speaker of the lower house of Congress, Emilio Monzo.