Product of Mexico: Harsh Harvest

A Times reporter and photographer find that thousands of laborers at Mexico’s mega-farms endure harsh conditions and exploitation while supplying produce for American consumers.

 Pedro Vasquez, working the chile pepper fields near Leon, Guanajuato, is one of the estimated 100,000 Mexican children younger than 14 who pick crops for pay, according to the government’s most recent estimate. He is 9 years old.

Pedro Vasquez, working the chile pepper fields near Leon, Guanajuato, is one of the estimated 100,000 Mexican children younger than 14 who pick crops for pay, according to the government’s most recent estimate. He is 9 years old.

By Richard Marosi and Don Bartletti

A four part series in the Los Angeles Times

The tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers arrive year-round by the ton, with peel-off stickers proclaiming “Product of Mexico.”

Farm exports to the U.S. from Mexico have tripled to $7.6 billion in the last decade, enriching agribusinesses, distributors and retailers.

American consumers get all the salsa, squash and melons they can eat at affordable prices. And top U.S. brands — Wal-Mart, Whole Foods, Subway and Safeway, among many others — profit from produce they have come to depend on.

These corporations say their Mexican suppliers have committed to decent treatment and living conditions for workers.

But a Los Angeles Times investigation found that for thousands of farm laborers south of the border, the export boom is a story of exploitation and extreme hardship.

Laborers at Campo San Emilio, Sinaloa, sleep in their windowless rooms on vegetable crates and scraps of cardboard. Juan Hernandez, far right, wanted to visit his ailing wife in Veracruz. "But if I leave, I lose everything," he says.

Laborers at Campo San Emilio, Sinaloa, sleep in their windowless rooms on vegetable crates and scraps of cardboard. Juan Hernandez, far right, wanted to visit his ailing wife in Veracruz. “But if I leave, I lose everything,” he says.

The farm laborers are mostly indigenous people from Mexico’s poorest regions. Bused hundreds of miles to vast agricultural complexes, they work six days a week for the equivalent of $8 to $12 a day.

The squalid camps where they live, sometimes sleeping on scraps of cardboard on concrete floors, are operated by the same agribusinesses that employ advanced growing techniques and sanitary measures in their fields and greenhouses.

The contrast between the treatment of produce and of people is stark.

Read more at the Los Angeles Times

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Categories: Americas, Economics, Human rights, Mexico, Slavery, Sociology, United States, Workers' rights

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2 replies

  1. And people wonder why Mexicans leave. It’s to get a living wage, which in the US is not always the minimum, but more than they earn in Mexico and better working conditions.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi, Ecantados. That’s exactly right. The anti-immigrant crowd complains that illegals are taking our jobs and exploiting our social benefit programs. But these immigrants supply labor for jobs and at pay rates most Americans wouldn’t even consider. Moreover, illegal immigrants contribute billions of dollars in taxes that help support entitlements like social security and medicare, programs which they themselves may never be eligible to enjoy.

    In truth, immigrants–illegal or otherwise–have always been an asset to our country, enriching us culturally, and providing able and willing workers. America would not have become a world industrial power without them. The Chinese and the Irish built our great railroads; the Italians and other Europeans immigrants supplied the labor for America’s factories and steel mills, its coal mines and farms. And that Greatest Generation of Americans, who fought their way through hell itself in the European and the Pacific theaters of World War II, how many of those brave men and women had parents, aunts and uncles, and grandparents back home who didn’t speak a word of English?

    Leaving all of the Marxist rhetoric aside, I think most people don’t appreciate the degree to which capitalist economies of democratic societies have always been predicated on the existence of a disadvantaged and exploited working class. With globalization of the marketplace and the workforce, the victims are far from our sight, in sweatshops in Bangladesh, in construction sites in Qatar, and in factories in China. The turmoil that we see in our headlines every day represents the social and political consequences of a growing global economic disparity which inevitably comes back home to haunt us.

    NAFTA was sold as a boon to the economies of Mexico, Canada and the United States. But it was a betrayal that most benefited multinational corporations at the expense of American union workers and the American middle class. Peasant Mexican farmers, who before NAFTA could at least grow enough corn to feed themselves and their communities, suddenly found themselves unable to compete with cheaper American corn, grown by agribusiness giants using environmentally destructive petrochemical fertilizers and pesticides and massive irrigation works. With no place to turn for survival, they and their children either fled north seeking work or joined criminal syndicates.

    Liked by 1 person

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