The Brazil Renewable Energy Company, or Brenco, was the target of the Brazilian Labor Ministry's slave-labor investigation unit last month. Brenco produces ethanol from sugarcane, which is more carbon-efficient than corn-based ethanol but incredibly labor-inefficient — cane farming is some of the hardest work on Earth. How did the company, backed in part by Vinod Khosla's VC firm, address this inefficiency? By paying workers less than a dollar an hour, packing them cheek-to-jowl in substandard living conditions, preventing them from leaving the unsanitary housing on their free time, feeding them poorly, and (rather ironically for an ethanol manufacturer) banning alcohol.
Brenco also counts former president Bill Clinton, big money Democrat Ron Burkle and AOL founder Steve Case as investors. 133 workers freed from their servitude received a final paycheck and bus tickets home. I guess Brazilian workers just don't understand the entrepreneurial spirit of putting in long hours at a startup to help the company succeed. Savvy Valley employees know that if you want to enjoy basic human freedoms you should work at Starbucks or the post office.
(Photo by AP/Andre Penner)