Leading firms in energy and transport production seek to make ethanol a ‘global commodity’ and stretch their operations across spatial boundaries. This paper is concerned with the consequent change to work availability and quality in the sugar and ethanol industry in the west of Sao Paulo state. David Harvey’s concept of the spatial fix helps to link foreign investment of Brazil’s sugar and ethanol sector to emerging biofuel markets in Europe and the 2008 financial crisis, and explain implications for work creation and destruction. The testimonies of workers cutting and transporting sugar cane, those operating or maintaining machinery inside the new mills and former cane cutters that have joined the landless movements point to paradoxical changes to work quality and precarity and lead us to question corporate claims of social responsibility. The land and wealth concentration by leading firms expanding into the territories of Mato Grosso do Sul and Goias bring fresh challenges to the collective organisations of labour and the landless.