Nothing but Work Animals for the Fields -The United States and the Exploitation of Mexican Workers (Day 4 of 365)

Whenever I turn to news on Mexico in the past, I always heard about the increase in immigration to the United States as those south of the border try to escape the drug cartel. However, recently I read an article on NPR on an LA times investigative piece on “Megafarms.” Within the barbed wire fences of these farms, the laborers are treated worse than the produce that is to be shipped to the United States. US companies such as Wal-Mart, Subway, and even Whole Foods are some of the largest retailers that purchase from these abusive farms. There were even reports of child labor still occurring on some of these farms.

These workers are mainly made up of the indigenous population that come from Mexico’s poverty stricken areas in search work hundreds of miles from home. Unfortunately, these people are only paid $8-$12 USD a day, though it is more than what they made back home, their wages are still sometimes withheld until their 3 month contract is up. On top of this, the workers of these farms are forced to buy their food at highly inflated prices. When they fall into debt some are forced to scavenge for food, and even go home penniless at the end of the season. The wages of these men and women are usually withheld to ensure they never leave, as well as to payback the company store the farm contracts with.

The truly disgusting and quite sad part of all this, though in the end not too surprising, is that the companies from the United States do practically nothing to ensure the safety and other protections for these workers. As a worker on these Megafarms one would be forced to live in “camps” where you’d sleep on beds of cardboard or a concrete floor. When questioned about the living situations, the answer was that these people are used to sleeping on the floor and that they’ll just use the bedding as firewood.

As the LA Times stated, “the contrast between the treatment of produce and people is stark.” There are times when the workers and their children won’t have water to bathe in that day, thus they would bathe in the irrigation canals. Though child labor has been banned from many of the farms south of the border, among the smaller and more mid-sized farms, nearly 100,000 children under 14 years works along side the adults.

Wal-Mart is one of these companies that bought the produce items from at least three of these farms directly or the middlemen. When one farm, owned by Bioparques de Occidente in the state of Jalisco, held hundreds of the workers against their will and beat them Wal-Mart’s statement was:

“We care about the men and women in our supply chain, and recognize that challenges remain in this industry. We know the world is a big place. While our standards and audits make things better around the world, we won’t catch every instance when people do things that are wrong.” (LA Times)

I admit to being surprised about Subway and Whole Foods having purchased from such farms, yet I do admit to not being entirely so that Wal-Mart (with a past history of being connected with sweat shops in other third world countries) purchased these products. Nevertheless, it doesn’t make it right.

One of the workers stated, “the real truth is that we’re work animals for the field” -Pasqual Garcia. The contractors in charge of distributing the wages, as well as bringing them too and from the camps, often abuse their power. When they’re questioned about beating workers, they lie and claim that the more these workers are protected then the less they’ll want to work. An excuse for not paying the workers every week as they’re supposed to be doing is that they’re drinkers and have issues with drugs and violence. “Huasteca people are fighters when they’re drunk” said one contractor.

Though the US companies tied with these farms have more than plenty of rules, they’re to ensure the well-being of American consumers, not the Mexican farm hands. The workers are required to keep their fingernails clipped and hands clean before picking the vegetables. Nonetheless, they’re only given two pieces of toilet paper to use at the outhouses, as well as having to live with the feral cats and rats in the shack-like buildings. In some camps, workers were found defecating in corn fields, and the excuse for them bathing in the irrigation canals? They’re told that “it’s a cultural practice…” not because they don’t have running water.

How many of us have eaten at either Subway, Olive Garden, or purchased our produce from Whole Foods? After the investigation into the abuse of laborers in Mexico, I can say that I personally will be refusing to shop at such places. Though the Mexican government and the US based companies need to enforce the worker’s protections and rights more thoroughly, it is also a matter of us consumers to bring a stop to this. Question the employees when you go out shopping next, or eat out at a restaurant. Ask them if their produce comes from the Megafarms in Mexico. Heck, I’ll out right refuse to buy or eat there if they do!

For the in depth details, go to the series at LA Times. Com including the for photos, etc.

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