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Agricultural regions in Europe turning into no-rights zones

All over Europe, migrants face serious human and labour rights violations in the agricultural sector. Embedded in a system of generalised competition in global markets, the agroindustry requires an ever-increasing pool of flexible and cheap labour. In Italy 55% of seasonal work is done by migrant workers. 28,9% of the agricultural work force of Andalucía. In certain EU countries, there’s even the desire to make asylum seekers available to agri-food employers.

A new ECVC publication shows how utilitarian migration policies that discriminate against and exploit foreign workers are turning many agricultural regions in Europe into no-rights zones.

Last year, after filing a complaint against employers and foremen for sexual assault and labour violations, close to 100 women from Morocco working as strawberry pickers in Andalucia were expelled and sent back to their home country. This incident is just the latest example of a reoccurring trend across Europe’s agricultural fields: the exploitation of migrant workers in almost complete impunity.

A major element is often overlooked: The role played by labour intermediaries in the abuse and exploitation of workers. In the case of the strawberry pickers of Andalucía, it was the EU that funded the recruitment venture of these women (15 000 female workers in 2018), which it outsourced to a Moroccan employment agency. To ensure exemplary temporary migration, instructions were given to recruit the cheapest and most vulnerable categories of society: rural women with children, who can only understand Arabic.

EU legal provisions allow national labour legislation to be circumvented, to the benefit of intermediaries, and nearly always to the detriment of workers, particularly migrants, resulting in the systemic and structural violation of fundamental rights such as the right to a fair income, the right to appropriate working conditions, the right to movement, and the prohibitions of slavery and forced labour.

Ending this trend of exploitation will require, first and foremost, social, labour and immigration policies based on the unrestricted respect for the rights of migrant and agricultural workers. And all this must be done within a radical reorientation of the agri-food production and distribution systems, away from the economy of exploitation of resources and human beings that is promoted by the agroindustrial model.

In a blog post last June we wrote about how the exploitation contributes to the supply chains of the everyday goods and services we take for granted – from the food on our plates, to the shirts on our backs.

A FRA report revealed that over half of the workers found their jobs by word of mouth but ended up in ‘concentration camp conditions’ where ‘they keep us like dogs, like slaves’. FRA researchers found that some of the EU’s exploited migrant workers are:

  • paid as little as €5-a-day

  • forced to pay debts to traffickers before earning a cent

  • working 92-hour, seven-day weeks, with no holiday or time off

  • sleeping in shipping containers, with no water or electricity

  • monitored on CCTV 24/7 by bosses

  • subjected to beatings, verbal abuse and threats of further violence

  • given no protective clothing to work with hazardous chemicals

  • face sexual and gender-based violence or forced into moving drugs

  • threatened of dismissal and deportation when they ask for their wages.

Source: European Coordination Via Campesina report, “Sowing Injustice, Harvesting Despair: Abuse and Exploitation of Foreign Agricultural Workers”. Available in French and English


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