Migrant labor camps in the US fail to meet basic human rights standards. These camps are supposed to offer labor workers a place to live while working. Laws require that workers’ residences meet minimal health and safety standards. However, as Robert Holly reports for the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting and In These Times, this could not be further from the truth. In addition to the difficult and dangerous working conditions in the fields, Holly reports that, “When workers leave the fields, many return to housing riddled with health and safety hazards—housing that’s often owned or arranged by employers or employers’ agents.”
Holly’s report documents how small-scale farmers and multibillion-dollar Big Ag corporations—including DuPont Pioneer and Monsanto—“routinely use third-party labor recruiters who crowd workers in trailers, dilapidated motels and ramshackle apartments.”
Baltazar Arvizu, a worker who has been in and out of these camps said, “I’ve stayed in housing that is very similar to barns for animals.” Bedbug infested mattresses, showers where people are expected fill a bucket while standing in the tub, and the prevalence of black mold, cockroaches, and mice, are just some of the conditions that have mobilized workers to bring lawsuits against those responsible. The Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting has compiled a database of inspection records that documents “more than 1,900 individual violations across about 470 housing facilities in the major farm states of Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Missouri, Michigan, Ohio, Texas, and Wisconsin between 2012 and 2016.”
Big Ag companies benefited from the third party system because it minimizes their expenses, while protecting them against workers’ lawsuits over the terrible conditions. These shell companies take the legal hits when workers’ suits do succeed, protecting the reputations of the bigger companies that are ultimately responsible for workers’ living conditions. Ultimately, Holly reports, “states must hire more inspectors, impose heftier fines and allocate funding to build better housing for farmworkers.”
Neither the scope of violations by third party labor recruiters nor workers’ efforts to bring lawsuits against those responsible, as documented in Holly’s report, have been covered in the corporate media as of October 2016.
Source: Robert Holly, “Still Harvesting Shame: Insides Big Ag’s Migrant Labor Camps,” In These Times, October 2016, pp 34-37. Originally published by the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting, September 22, 2016, http://investigatemidwest.org/2016/09/22/still-harvesting-shame/.
Student Researcher: Stephanie Rogers (Sonoma State University)
Faculty Evaluator: James Dean (Sonoma State University)