Friday, December 17, 2010

How Boston Pizza Affects a Brazilian Farm Town

"From Brazil to Beacon Hill" demonstrates how a video can help illuminate a complex story -- in this case, about a complicated relationship between a Boston pizza empire and the tiny South American farm town of Marilac that helped build it.

It's a story of negative unintended consequences, involving illegal immigration, workers' rights, and allegedly corrupt business practices -- produced by Dina Rudick for the Boston Globe.

According to the video, entrepreneur Jordan Tobins (pictured) built and expanded the successful Upper Crust pizza chain on the backs of radically underpaid immigrant laborers. What makes the story remarkable is that about 80 of these men came from an impoverished rural town in Brazil, which also benefited from the arrangement. The men would plan to work hard in the U.S. for five to seven years, to make enough money to bring back to their families, and use it to build their own homes and businesses back in Marilac.

In short, the Brazilians paved the road to their dreams through Boston, making pizzas at 17 locations, and delivering them on bicycles, working up to 90 hours a week. The fly in the ointment was that, after 10 years, some of the Brazilians complained of being exploited, overworked, and undercompensated, with former employees suing for money they claimed they earned but never received.

The six-minute video takes us to both locations -- Boston and Brazil -- to tell the story of a mutually dependent relationship that happened to be illegal, but worked to everyone's advantage ... until workers claimed that management overstepped the bounds of fairness.

After this video was published online, the Boston Globe followed up with a report that the Upper Crust "is coming under scrutiny by the Massachusetts attorney general’s office for potential violations of the state’s minimum-wage and other workplace laws," and is also being examined by the Department of Labor, and the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination.

We are reminded of a similarly themed video story about illegal immigrants working in the U.S., in a situation where everyone benefited, until legal action doubly impacted their original and adopted hometowns. In this case, one of the largest immigration raids in U.S. history devastated the economy of a tiny town in Iowa and two small villages in Guatemala. Frontline's "A Tale of Two Villages" details how the arrest and deportation of 400 undocumented workers at a Postville, Iowa meatplant had horrifying repercussions on two continents.

"A Tale of Two Villages" is showcased on KobreGuide to the Web's Best Videojournalism.

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