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24 Mar 2024

The New York Times, Megha Rajagopalan and Qadri Inzamam

India: Investigation reveals child labour and brutal working conditions for women in Maharashtra sugarcane fields; incl. co. comment

See all tags Allegations

"The Brutality of Sugar: Debt, Child Marriage and Hysterectomies", 24 March 2024

The two soft-drink makers have helped turn the state of Maharashtra into a sugar-producing powerhouse.


Young girls are pushed into illegal child marriages so they can work alongside their husbands cutting and gathering sugar cane. Instead of receiving wages, they work to pay off advances from their employers — an arrangement that requires them to pay a fee for the privilege of missing work, even to see a doctor.

An extreme yet common consequence of this financial entrapment is hysterectomies. Labor brokers loan money for the surgeries, even to resolve ailments as routine as heavy, painful periods. And the women — most of them uneducated — say they have little choice.


Hysterectomy is a routine surgery performed around the world, though infrequently for women in their 20s and 30s. In India, it is more common, including as a form of birth control, and other parts of the country also have high hysterectomy rates. But in Maharashtra’s sugar industry, everyone — contractors, other workers, even doctors — pushes women toward the surgery.


“The description of the working conditions of sugar-cane cutters in Maharashtra is deeply concerning,” PepsiCo said in a statement. “We will engage with our franchisee partners to conduct an assessment to understand the sugar-cane cutter working conditions and any actions that may need to be taken.” Coca-Cola declined to comment on a detailed list of questions.