Diaz Matia bathes her 9-mo-old son where people wash dishes and clothes in a government-run farm worker camp in Isla del Bosque, Sinaloa, Mexico.

Exploitation of Mexican indigenous people puts food on US tables

A young woman farm worker looks at the camera, her entire face covered with a hat and t-shirt. Only her eyes are visible.

Marial Rosaria, 21, started farm work at age 4. (Image Credit: Don Bartletti)

In the US, it has become more and more common to be selective when it comes to where we purchase our food. Many consumers who can afford to are opting for food that is organic, or even locally grown. But we have yet to develop a national trend around purchasing food that is humanely cultivated. This allows for the continued exploitation of farm workers, many of whom are brown and undocumented.

We’ve written before about the abuse faced by farm workers in the US. Vero highlighted the fact that sexual assault is endemic within the industry, with very few avenues for survivors to seek justice.

But fruits and vegetables consumed in the US are not only produced in the US. A new series of stories from the LA Times sheds light on the inhumane conditions that farm workers deal with in Mexico, and they are shocking. Reporter Richard Marosi found that farm laborers — the majority of whom are indigenous — consistently have their wages withheld as a way of trapping them within the jobs. Workers are housed within almost unlivable camps, often without functioning toilets or even beds.

“The contrast between the treatment of produce and of people is stark,” says Marosi. Farm workers are trained in treating fruits in vegetables with obsessive care (including lessons on finger nail length and hygiene) yet expected to survive without wages for months.

A young indigenous girl looks out from behind a bush, her eyes guarded.

Alejandra Rivera, 10, has been picking chile pepper since age 7. (Image Credit: Don Bartletti)

Ramirez and several hundred others recruited by the same labor contractor earned $8 a day and were owed as much as $300 each. They said they wouldn’t be paid until the end of their three-month contracts. That would be in six more weeks.

Workers said they had been promised $8 in pocket money every two weeks but received it only sporadically.

If they left now, they would forfeit the wages they’d earned. The barbed-wire fence that ringed the camp was an added deterrent. Farm owners say the barriers are meant to keep out thieves and drug dealers. They also serve another purpose: to discourage laborers from leaving before the crop has been picked and they’ve paid their debts to the company store.

Though the report does not mention sexual assault, one has to wonder what kinds of protections there are against violence when farm workers aren’t even fed properly.

Read the rest of the series and learn which US grocery stores and restaurants are supporting the inhumane treatment of thousands of workers.

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Bay Area, California

Juliana is a digital storyteller for social change. As a writer at Feministing since 2013, her work has focused on women's movements throughout the Americas for environmental justice, immigrant rights, and reproductive justice. In addition to her writing, Juliana is a Senior Campaigner at Change.org, where she works to close the gap between the powerful and everyone else by supporting people from across the country to launch, escalate and win their campaigns for justice.

Juliana is a Latina feminist writer and campaigner based in the Bay Area.

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