#MyCarletonSummer: Nick Caputo

31 July 2017

How are Carls spending their summer? We chat with Nick Caputo ’19, a junior political science/international relations major from Kennet Square, Pennsylvania.

What are you doing this summer?

This summer I’m interning at the Trust for Community Outreach and Education (TCOE), a small Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) based in Cape Town, South Africa, which works on issues of land reform and to improve the lives of rural farmworkers throughout South Africa. I’m working on legal research around the use of labor broking in the wine and fruit industry here.

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How did you decide to do this?

I wanted to work at an NGO outside of the US this summer to try to get a sense of what work in this kind of job is like. I was especially keen to get an internship that would allow me to work on the ground directly with the people who are being effected by the work rather than just working at a management office or something. Carleton’s Career Center is piloting a new program called Global Edge, a partnership with Connect-123, an internship placement company. Students can apply for internships in Cape Town, Buenos Aires, and Shanghai, explaining what they want kind of work they want to do. If selected, Connect-123 looks for local partners in one of those cities who might be able to provide the kind of experience the student is looking for. I knew that I wanted to work on issues around law and land, and TCOE was a great fit!

Tell me about the position!

I’m a legal research intern here at TCOE. I’ve been assigned a research project by my boss on the subject of labor broking, an area of particular interest for us. In short, the South African wine and fruit industry used to operate on a system where the farm owners provided permanent employment and housing for farmworkers on their farms. It was not uncommon for workers to live and work on farms for decades. However, there has been a transformation in the industry where farm owners now contract with labor brokers, intermediaries between owners and workers, who then hire farmworkers out of the local township to work brief, seasonal contracts. This has created significant instability in the lives in farmworkers, who now might only work six months out of the year and have lost the benefits of living on the farm. Labor brokers also often break the law and abuse their workers. We’re trying to raise awareness of the situation.

While most of my days are like any other office job, coming into work and doing research or writing, I just got back yesterday from a field research trip. I went out to a town a couple of hours from Cape Town to interview farmworkers who are working for labor brokers. I met with one of TCOE’s local partners, a representative of the farmworkers union. He took me to visit a number of farms to look at the conditions of work and living on the farms. Most people live in small houses that are falling apart, often without electricity, running water, or modern plumbing. We talked to workers about how they were treated by labor brokers and their difficulty finding paying work. Finally, we went out to a union meeting where some members lodged a complaint against one of their managers for mistreating them. It was a very interesting trip. I got a lot of useful material for my research and met a lot of people, despite having to transcend language (most people in this town speak Afrikaans and little English) and cultural barriers.

What is your favorite thing about your job?

The research trip was my favorite thing about the internship so far. They trusted me to do the research on my own and I was able to apply the things I’d been learning from my desk research to this project. I also enjoy the challenges of language and culture that travel like that provides and got to see a new part of South Africa outside of Cape Town.

How did Carleton make your summer possible? 

My summer would not be possible without the support of the Career Center. The Career Center provided guidance and support for the process of applying for this internship, and my internship is fully funded through the Career Center, which is truly wonderful.