The Global Mail reports on a shocking case of alleged abuses of migrant workers in the Spanish horticulture industry, concentrated in the southern Spanish region of Almería along a 200km strip of hothouses known as el mar de plásticos. This is where much of Europe’s salad vegetable crop is grown.
Allegations range from payment below the minimum wage, employment of illegal migrants, intimidation and, in the most recent case, murder. The UK’s Guardian newspaper’s special correspondent Felicity Lawrence wrote a startling report into labour abuses in €2 billion a year hothouse industry. She found:
Migrant workers from Africa living in shacks made of old boxes and plastic sheeting, without sanitation or access to drinking water.
Wages that are routinely less than half the legal minimum wage.
Workers without papers being told they will be reported to the police if they complain.
Allegations of segregation enforced by police harassment when African workers stray outside the hothouse areas into tourist areas.
Charities working with illegal workers claim the abuses meet the UN’s official definition of modern-day slavery and that the Spanish economic downturn is making matters worse, as workers are laid off in the construction industry and seek work in agriculture, thus swelling the pool of labour. It’s not just Spain. Again, Felicity Lawrence has reported on abuses of farm workers in the UK:
“Twelve agricultural workers living in a caravan with no water, sanitation, lighting, heating or cooking facilities. Thirty workers living in a two-bedroom house that was structurally dangerous, threatened by men wielding baseball bats if they complained. A worker who lost a leg when the illegal minivan transporting him was involved in an accident. A bonded worker doing 12 hours hard labour six days a week from 3.30am milking cows and breaking rocks on a dairy farm. These are a tiny number of the cases of extreme exploitation found by the Gangmasters Licensing Authority (GLA) during its recent inspections. Last year it uncovered 845 cases of workers being exploited in the food processing and farming business in the UK.”
I have no doubt that the picture is similar in other member states.
The Common Agricultural Policy aims to ensure that recipients of EU farm subsidies observe EU minimum standards on protection of the environment and care of animals. The CAP does not play a large role in supporting the horticulture sector through direct subsidies but it does provide other aid to producer groups and it is not by any means clear that the problem of worker abuse is confined to the less subsidised parts of the agricultural economy.
Should the CAP’s cross compliance rules be extended to cover treatment of agricultural workers? Should farms where labour abuse takes place be disqualified from receiving subsidies?
This post is written by Jack Thurston