Farmworkers in Mexico: A Snapshot of Human Rights Abuses A report by The Business and Human Rights Resource Centre (BHRRC), in partnership with the National Network of Agricultural Day Laborers and Hispanics in Philanthropy

Farmworkers in Mexico

In Mexico, a large segment of the population is forced to migrate every year to different areas of the country, with children in tow, in search of jobs on farms. What do they find? Meager wages and, often, deplorable conditions including human rights abuses and forced child labor. According to the National Program for Agricultural Workers, in 2016 nearly 6 million Mexicans were working as farmworkers in their home country. Of these 6 million, roughly 4.5 million are considered to be family members, including children.

Farmworkers and their families are driven by a lack of economic opportunities in their communities of origin and travel hundreds of miles to end up in extremely precarious living (housing, health, nutrition and education) and working conditions. The majority of this population are internal migrants originating primarily from the south of Mexico, home to some the country’s most impoverished states including Guerrero, Oaxaca, Chiapas, San Luis Potosi, Hidalgo, and Veracruz. They travel hundreds of miles in cramped pickups and buses, chasing the harvest on Mexico’s mega farms located primarily in central western and northwestern regions of the country include the states of Baja California, Baja California Sur, Sonora, Chihuahua, Sinaloa, Guanajuato, Jalisco, and Michoacan.

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 Findings

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.

Regarding precarious conditions and labor exploitation, the most common abuses were: health abuse (11 cases), decent work (9 cases), social security (9 cases), decent housing (9 cases), and access to a nursery or day care.


Based on these findings, which document significant ongoing labor and human rights abuses against farm workers throughout Mexico, BHRRC and the National Network of Agricultural Day Laborers recommend the following:

To foundations and NGOs

  • Continue funding and conducting research on the labor conditions for farmworkers in Mexico, to make visible the human rights violations of agricultural laborers
  • Create a centralized database of documentation to ensure there is current information on the problem and its systemic nature, which would facilitate advocacy and support litigation

For food and agriculture companies

  • Companies whose value chain includes agricultural products from Mexico must take measures to prevent labor abuses and avoid forced labor in their value chain
  • Food and beverage companies, as well as supermarkets, should make their suppliers lists transparent — this could have a significant impact in detecting and reducing human and labor rights abuses

For the government

  • The authorities must carry out inspections of farms and agricultural companies in order to prevent, investigate, and, if necessary, impose punitive measures for violations of farmworkers’ rights
  • Provide up-to-date information on the economic and social conditions of agricultural laborers

Want to learn more?

Read HIP's report on human trafficking in Mexico.

Interested in partnering with HIP? Reach out to Dana Preston, Gender Equity Associate Director, at dana.preston@hiponline.org

Photos by: Voces Mesoamericanas, 2018

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