Gender, Contracts and Wage Work: Agricultural Restructuring in Brazil's São Francisco Valley


  • Jane L. Collins

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      Associate Professor, Departments of Sociology and Women's Studies, University of Wisconsin, Madison, WI 53706. Her previous publications include Unseasonal Migrations: The Effects of Rural Labor Scarcity in Peru (Princeton, 1988) and Work Without Wages, edited with Martin Gimenez (SUNY, 1990).


Brazil̂s São Francisco Valley provides an example of the ways in which agro-food firms are attempting to mobilize and control labour as they expand production of fruits and vegetables for domestic and global markets. In crops where cost reduction is a primary concern, firms choose highly ‘flexible’ forms of labour mobilization, drawing on the casual labour of migrants from the Brazilian Northeast. In crops where the quality and timing of produce are of great importance, firms use either subcontracting arrangements that mobilize family labour, or the labour of local women and children. In this way, firms involved in the production of fruits and vegetables show many similarities to their counterparts in certain branches of industry: they are actively experimenting with labour arrangements that tap the most vulnerable segments of the international workforce, and that appropriate unpaid family labour.