One of the hypotheses raised in newspaper articles points to dehydration as a probable cause of Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD), which is affecting sugar cane workers, among others, indicating that the sugar industry is negligent in preventing heat stress and accusing it of imposing extenuating labor.
In the specific case of Ingenio San Antonio (ISA), owned by Nicaragua Sugar Estates Limited (NSEL), a member of Grupo Pellas, there is a historic tradition of commitment with its collaborators to whom it has directed important social programs to improve their living and working conditions.
The practice of good hydration and a balanced diet for ISA cane cutters has been established as a company policy through which annual operating plans have been regulated to promote a healthy lifestyle.
In order to adapt sugar cane cutters to environmental conditions and thus avoid heat stress, Nicaragua Sugar has established a system of progressive work during the coolest hours of the day until cane cutters have the capacity to work a full day. Most workers arrive to the plantation at 6:00 a.m., begin to work one hour later, and stop working between 11:00 a.m. and 12:00 noon.
To ensure adequate hydration during the day, ISA has adopted the following modality: Each group of field workers consists of approximately 150 to 300 workers, divided into groups of 60 to 70, who are transported by bus to the different plantations. Each worker brings a container from his house with capacity to store 4 to 6 liters of water and each bus carries a 55-gallon drum to adequately store and supply drinking water to the workers.
Additionally, 1500cc of hydrating solution are provided to all cane cutters each workday, which has implied education and promotion of this routine by social workers. In addition, nutritious cookies are provided to them each day, lunch in the field is provided by the company to ensure a balanced nutritional diet, medical care is provided to the cane cutters and their family unit and food supplies are delivered. A group of health brigades and social workers oversees that cane cutters receive these benefits.
As regards the maximum task assigned to each cane cutter, in 2005 ISA eliminated the average nine tons of sugar cane that were cut by each worker, as well as the higher value incentives for six tons or more, and set the limit on seven tons per worker, distributing the monetary incentive of this new task to reduce the effort of the workers without reducing their economic income.