When the LA Times published its investigative report at the end of 2014 detailing horrendous conditions for farmworkers on produce farms in Mexico, it just confirmed what many of us knew must be the reality. Lack of sanitation, little to no bedding, withholding of already inadequate wages, and restricting workers’ ability to leave were detailed in this series.
Despite consumer outrage and promises by some companies, notably the retailer giant Wal-Mart, to do more, the situation has yet to improve leading to a farmworker strike in the Baja area of Mexico.
A third of our fruit and two thirds of our vegetables here in the US come from large produce farms in Mexico. This situation has been growing for decades and can be traced to NAFTA, which led not only to an increase in fresh produce imports from Mexico to the US, but some companies moved production south of the border where they could pay the same workers less money to produce and process fresh fruits and vegetables for US consumers.
The situation is now a crisis and the 50,000 farmworkers who went on strike as well as thousands of others need immediate change so that they are free to work for fair pay without jeopardizing their healthy and even their lives.
Because the problem is systemic, it will take a huge coordinated effort to overcome. Although the current crisis centered around Baja, Mexico, some of the same buyers of produce from these farms have ben implicated elsewhere. For example, a worker from a farm supplying Driscoll’s was cited in the article above. As far away as the state of Washington, on Sakuma Brothers Farm where Driscoll’s is also the main buyer, workers are also striking over poor pay and conditions.
In solidarity with the farmworkers in Mexico, the US-based United Farm Workers (UFW) has circulated a petition that will be shared with major retailers including Target, Wal-Mart, and Safeway. These retailers collectively buy massive amounts of fresh fruits and vegetables and get them into the hands of millions of consumers. They have an obligation to both their consumers who do not want to participate in this system of oppression, as well as to the producers who provide the food. And they have the power to do things differently.