"Người Tá Điền Thời Đại..." (The Modern Sharecroppers)... ở đây! Hay ở đây nữa!
Sanderson Farms presented them with a contract to sign. They were not pleased with what they read. The contract required them to adhere to farming guidelines that Sanderson Farms established “from time to time” and to strictly follow “all written and oral instructions.” Although the three-page earnings and expense projections indicated that they would be paid $0.37 per dozen eggs, the Bedwells now discovered that the “payment schedule may be amended from time to time” and that Sanderson Farms reserved the right to cancel the contract at any time. If the Bedwells became dissatisfied they couldn't sue; the contract stated that their only legal recourse was arbitration. Not only did the contract close the doors to the courthouse, it also made arbitration an unlikely possibility. While court filing fees are relatively inexpensive, registration for arbitration can run as high as $10,000 to $20,000.
“This is why they've got labor laws to protect people,” Nevada says. “But the labor laws don't [apply] here because you're supposed to be a contract worker. They've found that gray area outside the labor laws.”
When the Bedwells didn’t comply exactly with Sanderson Farms’ wishes, they would sometimes hear from their loan officer, who, they say, warned them that unless they followed the company's instructions, they risked losing their contract. “It's indentured labor,” says another grower.
A district judge agreed, describing the arbitration clause as “unconscionable” in his ruling against the company. Sanderson Farms has appealed the case to the Mississippi Supreme Court.
Modern Day Sharecroppers
The way it works is that farmers provide the land, buildings, and their labor. The companies supply -- and retain ownership of -- the chickens, the feed, and any medicine the birds might need.
"The [poultry companies] pretty much control you, and if you complain, they can cut you off," said Larry Owens, an Agriculture Department official who sees both good and bad in contract growing.
No longer do they assume market risk and have to locate a buyer when their flocks are ready for sale. This allows them to earn a steady income on relatively little acreage, he said.
But many growers get into trouble quickly, even though they're protected against falling prices.
Aside from wanting to retain family land, many farmers sign poultry contracts because they are confident of being above-average growers and therefore earning more, said Robert Taylor, an Auburn University agricultural economist.
But as other farmers upgrade with better technology or build more efficient chicken houses, those with older facilities will usually fall below average, he said.
All poultry companies pay farmers a price per pound, which is raised or lowered by how the grower ranks among others on the basis of feed converted to weight gain. A half-cent per pound can make the difference between profit and loss.
Called the ranking, or tournament system, farmers found on the bottom rung during three or more flock growing periods may be pressured to improve productivity by upgrading facilities, or poultry companies can drop them.
"Some call it the gladiator system, because you are trying to kill your competitor, your own neighbor," said Laura Klauke of the Rural Advancement Foundation International-USA, a North Carolina-based advocacy group working for passage of legislation to improve contracts.
And over the past half-century, the poultry industry has become highly consolidated, meaning that few growers have an alternative should there be a falling out with their processor.
This leads to many farmers feeling trapped, said Ann Stanaland, who grew chickens with her husband near Nacogdoches. Even if they opt to sell, none can recoup their investment if there's no current contract to go with the farm. Without a contract, the value of the property often collapses.
Even if multiple poultry companies already operate in the same area, there's little incentive to pick up a rival's farmer.
"Why sign a farmer with 5-year-old houses when there's a waiting list of people willing to build brand new ones?" said a former Pilgrim's Pride field representative who declined to be named because of fear of retaliation against relatives who are growers.
Of 14 farmers interviewed for this article, only two current growers agreed to be identified by name.
"Hợp Đồng Trồng Gà là một cái bẩy... đầy nợ nần...",... ở đây!
Critics like Wes Sims, president of the Waco-based Texas Farmers Union, say that predictions of growers' earnings are overstated, that they risk being cut off from fresh flocks for refusing costly upgrades demanded by companies, and that their heavy farm debt ensures that they renew unfair contracts, creating a system akin to modern-day serfdom.
< Sửa đổi: SongCon -- 11/12/2005 1:19:16 AM >