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Fruit pickers lured to Portugal by the dream of a ‘raspberry passport’ | Global development

Three days after Sagar* arrived as a worker in Portugal from Nepal, he began to worry he had made a terrible mistake. “I had expectations to get good work, good money,” he says. “But the reality was different.”

The only job Sagar, 21, could find was on one of the country’s berry farms in Odemira, a rural region on the south-west coast. Earning less than the legal minimum wage to work 16-hour days in 40C heat, he knows he is being exploited. But quitting could jeopardise his residency application – and that’s a risk he cannot afford to take.

Sagar is one of more than 10,000 young men and women who have left their home countries to find work in Portugal’s £200m berry industry, picking fruit that will be sold in supermarkets across Europe.

They are drawn to Portugal and the heart of Europe’s soft fruits industry by the dream of what many refer to as a “raspberry passport”.

Migrant workers describe exploitative working conditions on fruit farms in Odemira, Portugal.
Migrant workers describe exploitative working conditions on fruit farms. Photograph: Francesco Brembati/The Guardian

That’s because whether or not they entered Europe legally, upon arrival in Portugal, foreigners of any nationality can apply for temporary residency, as long as they have a work contract and can prove they are paying taxes in the country. Workers interviewed by the Guardian got jobs on farms through intermediary agencies without the need to prove they were yet a legal resident.

Once a worker has acquired temporary residency they can then begin a five-year countdown to citizenship – and a much-longed for Portuguese passport. “It’s the colour of a raspberry, about to fall from the tree,” says Sagar. “The passport is the one big dream. It’s your life changer.”

In the meantime, many overseas workers endure what they describe as exploitative conditions, fearful that changing jobs will nullify their residency application.

“Everyone is very scared,” says Sagar. “Your taxes are connected with your work, and your papers are connected with your taxes. And if you lose one, you lose the other.”

Map

Sagar is halfway there. In just under three years, he will be legally entitled to a Portuguese passport, enabling him to live and work freely across the EU.

The desperation for a passport leaves thousands of foreign workers in conditions akin to labour bondage, says Alexandra Pereira, a researcher at the University of Lisbon, specialising in Nepali migration to Portugal. “They feel trapped, not only by the legal procedures but also the loans they got to come here and the money they have to pay to the people who brought them,” she says. “It keeps them in this cycle of exploitation.”

Berry pickers interviewed by the Guardian describe paying smugglers up to €18,000 (£15,000) to facilitate their entry into the EU. Rahul*, 28, took a precarious route across Serbia that saw him wading through rivers up to his neck. “I didn’t know if I would die on the way,” he says. “Nobody knows who I am, where I’m from. It’s a very, very difficult journey.”

After risking his life to get there, Odemira proved a crushing disappointment. “I don’t know anybody here who cares for me,” Rahul says, suddenly tearful. He would return to India in an instant, but he owes €7,000 to his smuggler, and his parents sold their home to cover the rest of the costs. They’re relying on him to send money home. “My heart is broken. I’m missing my girlfriend, missing my mother and father. I have nothing to show them.”

How long the process will take him is impossible to predict. Out of 40 migrant workers interviewed, one in four were still awaiting temporary residency, despite some filing their initial requests in early 2019.

One 25-year-old woman says she filed her residency application to Portugal’s foreigners and borders service in 2019 but was told in June that her application no longer existed. She has had to postpone her wedding in India twice. If she leaves the country, her application is nullified. “For three years [my fiance] has been waiting for me. We have dreams for our marriage, for everything … but everything is spoiled.”

Last year, the Portuguese government confirmed plans to shutter the service, but when this will happen remains uncertain. “The concern is that a large number of migrants may be stuck in a limbo until the new service starts working,” says the high commissioner for migration, Sónia Pereira. “It’s a cause of great anxiety.”

Without permanent residency, the berry pickers worry the smallest misstep could threaten their futures. “We can’t complain,” says one man from India, who says he sometimes works for up to 11 hours a day with less than an hour’s break. “When there is no work, what will you eat? What will you drink? Nothing.”

Berry pickers wait for their bus to work in the early morning.
Berry pickers wait for their bus to work in the early hours of Saturday morning. (None of the workers photographed here were interviewed.) Photograph: Francesco Brembati/The Guardian

Sintab, a Portuguese labour union, has only managed to unionise 12 migrant workers in the region. “The rest of them were afraid to talk to us and then suffer reprisals,” says a former union employee, who asked to remain anonymous.

In June 2018, a group of berry pickers in Odemira staged a protest about working conditions and lost their jobs, according to farmworkers. “Afterwards, everyone was scared,” says Sagar. “So the rest, who were thinking to protest, keep on doing the work and following the others, and the same pattern [of exploitation] keeps going on.”

Fearful that their employers are watching their comings and goings, interviews with the Guardian take place after dark, as workers scout the streets to make sure nobody can see who is entering their homes. Crammed into small cottages by the dozen, they reveal bare mattresses on kitchen floors and bunks in draughty garages. In winter, temperatures at night can drop to sub-zero degrees. One worker says his bunk bed is infested with fleas.

Others sleep in converted shipping containers and pre-fabricated dormitories on the farms. One young woman from Nepal shares a room with up to 10 others, metres from her employer’s office on a farm. Sometimes, she doesn’t leave the property for weeks at a time, she says. “They have almost no access to the outside world while they’re there,” says Aashima Budal, a PhD candidate at the University of Stavanger. “They often compare themselves to animals.”

The workers’ arrival in Odemira has boosted a declining population and brought business to the quiet, rural community. Yet rights groups say support for the region’s newest residents remains inadequate. Earlier this year, videos surfaced of military police violence against the migrant community in Odemira in 2018 and 2019. In one instance, footage shows several officers forcing one young man to inhale a breathalyser filled with pepper gas.

A single portable toilet in a field
Workers on some farms say they can walk for up to 15 minutes to reach the nearest toilet. Photograph: Francesco Brembati/The Guardian

Sagar alleges that a police officer stopped him in the street and assaulted him in 2018. “He slapped me in my chest,” he says, miming someone pushing him with the heels of their hands. “Two times, he slapped me like that … It’s the worst experience I’ve had in this country.” He didn’t report the incident. “I didn’t have the courage,” he says.

Portugal’s national guard told the Guardian it has a zero-tolerance approach to discrimination and that personnel involved in the incidents filmed in 2018 and 2019 have been suspended from duty during ongoing disciplinary proceedings. It has also organised awareness-raising training on human rights issues, including racism.

The main public health centre in Odemira is also struggling to keep up with the growing population, says one senior employee, claiming language barriers and a lack of resources compromises the standard of services they’re able to provide to those working on the berry farms. “If you ask me … Is the care being given in an adequate manner [to the workers]? No.”

Scared that any medical complaints could also affect their employability, the berry pickers say they often avoid seeking treatment for pre-existing conditions and injuries suffered at work. “If I go to the health centre, they will ask me so many questions,” says one man, who revealed infected cuts on his hands. “They can ask me about my card, my residency, so many papers. I want to avoid all the problems.”

Everyone in Portugal has the right to healthcare, regardless of their residency status, says a spokesperson for the department of health, adding that the Odemira health centre has a 24/7 emergency unit and an interpreter available once a week.

The Portuguese foreigners and borders service told the Guardian it was monitoring the situation in Odemira and that improving public service and speeding up the residency process are priority issues.

For Sagar, life in Portugal has become an endurance exercise. After his seventh hour in the berry fields, his thoughts shift to home – and whether he will ever be able to afford the 8,000 km (5,000 mile) journey back to Nepal.

“Maybe by the end of 2025, I will apply for the passport,” he says. “I just hope maybe I could get one, finally. And something will change after that … I will leave this place and go somewhere else and start a new life.”

* Names have been changed to protect identity

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Congratulations, Privacy Just Took A Great Leap Out the Window!

Your Data Is Being Used Without Your Permission And Knowledge

The Voice Of EU | In the heart of technological innovation, the collision between intellectual property rights and the development of cutting-edge AI technologies has sparked a significant legal battle. The New York Times has taken legal action against OpenAI and Microsoft, filing a lawsuit in Manhattan federal court. This legal maneuver aims to address concerns surrounding the unauthorized use of the Times’ content for the training of AI models, alleging copyright infringements that could potentially result in billions of dollars in damages.

READ: HOW YOUR DATA IS BEING USED TO TRAIN A.I.

This legal tussle underlines the escalating tension between technological advancements and the protection of intellectual property. The crux of the lawsuit revolves around OpenAI and Microsoft allegedly utilizing the Times’ proprietary content to advance their own AI technology, directly competing with the publication’s services. The lawsuit suggests that this unauthorized utilization threatens the Times’ ability to offer its distinctive service and impacts its AI innovation, creating a competitive landscape that challenges the publication’s proprietary content.

Amidst the growing digital landscape, media organizations like the Times are confronting a myriad of challenges. The migration of readers to online platforms has significantly impacted traditional media, and the advent of artificial intelligence technology has added another layer of complexity. The legal dispute brings to the forefront the contentious practice of AI companies scraping copyrighted information from online sources, including articles from media organizations, to train their generative AI chatbots. This strategy has attracted substantial investments, rapidly transforming the AI landscape.

Exhibit presented by the New York Times’ legal team of ChatGPT replicating a article after being prompted

The lawsuit highlights instances where OpenAI’s technology, specifically GPT-4, replicated significant portions of Times articles, including in-depth investigative reports. These outputs, alleged by the Times to contain verbatim excerpts from their content, raise concerns about the ethical and legal boundaries of using copyrighted material for AI model training without proper authorization or compensation.

The legal action taken by the Times follows attempts to engage in discussions with Microsoft and OpenAI, aiming to address concerns about the use of its intellectual property. Despite these efforts, negotiations failed to reach a resolution that would ensure fair compensation for the use of the Times’ content while promoting responsible AI development that benefits society.

In the midst of this legal battle, the broader questions surrounding the responsible and ethical utilization of copyrighted material in advancing technological innovations come to the forefront.

The dispute between the Times, OpenAI, and Microsoft serves as a significant case study in navigating the intricate intersection of technological progress and safeguarding intellectual property rights in the digital age.


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Culture

‘The Bill Gates Problem’ – The Case Against World’s Richest Man

The Case Against World’s Richest Man

When Clinton assumed the presidency of the United States, there was eager anticipation from the Chinese, not for Clinton himself, but for Bill Gates. This was during the late 1990s, a period when the internet was still in its nascent stages, and the digital boom of the early 2000s had not yet reached its peak. The enigmatic persona that captivated the attention of the burgeoning Asian powerhouse is now portrayed in “The Bill Gates Problem” as a “domineering, brusque figure” whose demeanor is likened to “a cauldron of passions that freely erupts.” According to a former employee cited in the book, Gates was perceived as “a complete and utter jerk to people 70% of the time,” while the remaining 30% saw him as a “harmless, enjoyable, exceptionally intelligent nerd.”

The 1990s were also the decade of the conflict between Microsoft and the now defunct Netscape browser, which challenged what was already being openly described as the former’s monopolistic practices. Gates was investigated and accused in Congress for such practices; he ultimately won the battle, but the case harmed his reputation, and in 2000 he resigned as CEO of his company. From there he undertook an expansion of the foundation that he had established with his wife and to which he has dedicated his main efforts in the last two decades. In 2006, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation received the Prince of Asturias Award for International Cooperation.

With a personal fortune of $100 billion and tens of billions more in his private foundation, Gates has been one of the richest men in the world for decades, and the foundation has been the most generous organization of its kind, specializing above all in health aid, education and child nutrition, with a large presence in Africa and India among other regions of what was formerly known as the Third World. Tim Schwab, a contributor to the weekly left-wing newspaper The Nation, undertook a detailed investigation to denounce something that in truth was already known: that American foundations are largely a way for billionaires to avoid taxes.

To prove this, he thoroughly looked into the accounts and procedures of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the failures and occasional successes of its philanthropic policies, and came to the conclusion that behind this facade of help to the needy hides an operation of power. He is ruthless in his criticism, although accurate in his analysis of the growing inequality in the world. Absorbed by the revolutionary rhetoric, he laments that the Gates Foundation has remained “deadly silent” regarding movements such as Occupy Wall Street or Black Lives Matter, which demand social change in the face of the “excess wealth and ‘white savior’ mentality that drives Bill Gates’ philanthropic work.” He does attribute some good intentions, but his criticism is merciless, sometimes even coarse, while the absence of solutions for the problems he denounces — other than the calls for do-goodism — is frustrating.

His abilities as an investigative journalist are thus overshadowed by a somewhat naive militancy against the creative capitalism that Gates promotes and an evident intention to discredit not only his work but, above all, him. The demands he makes for transparency and the accusations of obscurity are dulled by the author himself in the pages he dedicates to Gates’ relationship with Jeffrey Epstein, the famous corruptor of minors at the service of the international jet set. Gates has explained his meetings and interviews with him on countless occasions, and in no case has any type of relationship, other than their commercial relations or some confusing efforts to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, been proved. Still, Schwab raises, with no evidence whatsoever, the possibility that their relationship “could have had something to do with Epstein’s principal activities in life: sexual gratification and the exercise of power.” The book is full of this kind of opinions and speculations, to the detriment of a more serious analysis of Gates’ mistakes in the management of his foundation, the problems of shielding the intellectual property of vaccines in the hands of the pharmaceutical industries and, ultimately, the objective power that big technology companies have in global society.

He signed a collaboration agreement with the RAE to improve Microsoft’s grammar checker and was interested in the substantial unity of the Spanish language in all the countries where almost 600 million people speak it. That man was very far from the sexist, arrogant, miserable predator that Schwab portrays. Nor did we deduce — and this can be applied to the personal adventure of Steve Jobs, Larry Page, Zuckerberg, Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos — that his life’s goal was world domination, as suggested by this book. If they have achieved it, or may achieve it, it is due to the dynamics of digital civilization and the objective difficulties in governing it. The deregulation of financial capitalism, which has increased inequality among humankind, is due to the incompetence of obsolete political institutions and to leaders who care more about their own fates than those of their people. The criticism against “lame and wasteful government bureaucracies” might be part of the propaganda promoted by the world’s wealthy, but lately we have also heard it from small-scale farmers across Europe.

In conclusion, we found the book to be more entertaining than interesting. It provides a lot of information — we’re not sure if it’s entirely verified — and plenty of cheap ideology. Above all, one can see the personal crusade of the author, determined to prove that Bill Gates is a problem for democracy and that millionaire philanthropists are a bunch of swindlers. The world needs their money; maybe managed by party bureaucracies, that much is not clear. Bill Gates’ money, that is, but not Bill Gates himself.


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Global Affairs

Brazil’s G20 Presidency Kicks Off In Rio With Foreign Ministers Meeting | International

Foreign ministers of the Group of 20 nations were gathering Wednesday in Rio de Janeiro to discuss poverty, climate change and heightened global tensions as Brazil takes on the annual presidency of the bloc.

The ministers and other representatives of the 20 leading rich and developing nations planned to spend two days setting a roadmap for work to accomplish ahead of a Nov. 18-19 summit in Rio.

One of Brazil’s key proposals, set by President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, is a reform of global governance institutions such as the United Nations, the World Trade Organization and multilateral banks, where he wants to push for stronger representation of developing nations.

Brazil’s ambassador to the bloc, Mauricio Lyrio, said at a news conference Tuesday that structural reforms of international institutions are urgent because of a proliferation of conflicts around the world — not just in Ukraine and Gaza, but in a total of 183 locations, according to one study, he said.

“We have practically returned to the level of conflicts seen in the Cold War period. This shows that there is a lack of governance to deal with current challenges,” said Lyrio, who is the economic affairs secretary at Brazil’s Foreign Affairs Ministry.

“It is one thing to work for peace in each conflict; another thing is to have a global governance that prevents conflicts from occurring,” Lyrio said. “We’re basically putting out fires.”

After years of diplomatic isolation under former President Jair Bolsonaro, Lula has sought to reinsert Brazil on the center stage of global diplomacy since returning to power in January of 2023.

Lucas Pereira Rezende, a political scientist at the Federal University of Minas Gerais, said Lula was especially well-suited for the role, recalling that during his earlier terms as president from 2003 to 2010 he was once called “the most popular politician on Earth” by then-U.S. President Barack Obama.

The G20 “is a very important international stage, especially at a time when the world is facing two major wars, involving large states, and also at a time when multilateralism is in crisis,” Rezende told The Associated Press.

“But Lula is a very strong international actor and has a very strong multilateral role, especially when presenting himself as a leader of underdeveloped or developing countries.”

G20 finance ministers and central bank presidents are set to meet next week in Sao Paulo, and a second meeting of foreign ministers is scheduled for September.

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