Representing almost 5 percent of Mexico’s population, farmworkers are the manual labor behind the majority of fruits and vegetables people in the US consume year round. Various factors such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and Americans’ growing interest in living a healthy lifestyle have led to a rising demand for fresh produce throughout the year. In order to meet this demand, Mexico’s agribusiness industry has expanded, creating mega farms to increase production. Over the past 20 years, Mexico’s U.S. export agricultural production has grown about 11.5 percent per year.
While Mexico’s agricultural boom has been economically beneficial for the country, this growth has been at the expense of secure working conditions. The 2015 farmworker protests in San Quintin, Baja California Mexico shined light on this reality. The exploitative working conditions of farmworkers caught international attention after farmworkers there staged protests demanding better working and living conditions as well as their labor rights: fair wages, overtime pay and addressing sexual harassment faced by female farmworkers among other demands.
Around the same time, approximately 200 indigenous farmworkers living in modern slavery conditions were rescued in Chihuahua. They were promised payment of 200 mexican pesos a week (roughly $10 USD), but those wages were withheld under the guise that they would be released at the end of the season.
During 2016 Mexico’s Minister of Labor, Alfonso Navarrete Prida, publicly declared that much of Mexico’s farms’ production systems were based on a completely illegal system of exploitation. This includes child labor. During 2014 and 2015, 400 minors were rescued from ranches in Mexico.
But these cases are not isolated. Reports of labor exploitation, human trafficking, child labor and sexual harassment have continued.
What is the status of farmworkers in Mexico today? And what can the government, foundations, nonprofits, and companies do to support their rights?
In 2016, Hispanics in Philanthropy (HIP) supported two expert organizations in their research to answer these questions. In Mexico, HIP works to address human trafficking, which includes supporting the human and labor rights of vulnerable communities such as migrants and women. With support from HIP, The Business & Human Rights Resource Center (BHRRC), in partnership with the National Network of Agricultural Day Laborers (Red Nacional de Jornaleros y Jornaleras Agrícolas), set out to continue documenting and raising awareness about human rights violations on Mexico’s farms.
Between October 2016 and March 2017, BHRRC and the National Network of Agricultural Day Laborers created a survey to record human rights abuses of farmworkers in Mexico. Various organizations and academics that belong to the National Network conducted the 30 surveys and collected testimonies on various farms, inside migrant farmworker shelters as well as by telephone. The testimonies were reviewed and ultimately fourteen testimonies were selected based on systematic violation of human rights.
The results of the research were significant, if unsurprising: out of fourteen testimonies surveys, there were 103 cases of human rights of abuse that demonstrate the exploitation of farmworkers and the threat to their dignity and lives. The fourteen farmworkers were mainly of indigenous background and from the states of Guerrero, Chiapas, Oaxaca, Veracruz and San Luis Potosi. While this research represents a small sample of the national farmworker population, it is believed to be representative of the overall precarious living and working conditions throughout Mexico’s farms.
The surveys documented fourteen testimonies where abuses occurred in farms or fields in the states of Jalisco (1), Chihuahua (3), Sinaloa (2), Sonora (1), Coahuila (1), Quintana Roo (3), San Luis Potosí (1), Michoacán (1), and a case where the victim did not know where he was (1).
In these fourteen cases, 103 abuses related to precarious living conditions or labor exploitation of farmworkers were documented. In nine of the fourteen cases, they were indigenous people. In eight cases the victims were men, in four cases they were women. The crops included: chili peppers, tomato, sugar cane, apple, grape, zucchini, and cucumber.
Five testimonies mentioned having witnessed farmworkers dying due to lack of medical attention or negligence. This demonstrates the extreme vulnerability of farmworkers during transportation and during work hours, as well as the poverty in which they live. Four work accidents involved minors.
In addition, three cases involved deprivation of freedom of movement, forced debt, and prohibition of external communication. Two cases documented forced labor, deprivation of liberty, and recruitment fraud, and one case documented intimidation and threats.
In addition, we documented three cases that involved deprivation of freedom of movement, forced debt, and prohibition of external communication. Additionally, there were two cases of forced labor, deprivation of liberty and recruitment fraud and in one case, intimidation and threats.