Human rights recognise the inherent value of each person, regardless of background, home, physicaltraits, thoughts or beliefs. They are based on principles of dignity, equality and mutual respect, which are shared across cultures, religions and philosophies. They are about being treated fairly, treating others fairly andhaving the ability to make genuine choices in our daily lives.
Mistreated as mere chattels for economic benefit, the victims of modern slavery are no strangers to discrimination, child labour, forced labour& trafficking and enjoy no Human rights.
But what fuels this problem and how can we stop it?
Over-consumption of food in our supermarkets stems partly from it being so cheap and retailers encouraging consumers to buy more than they need. But low food prices, often due to the low wages and exploitation of workers, have a high human cost. The abysmally low, or sometimes non-existent, wages of an army of seasonal migrant workers across Europe who harvest asparagus, plums, peaches and strawberries, enable European supermarkets to minimize prices of their fruit and vegetables.
Today’s globalised supply chains make it almost impossible to avoid food tainted by slavery - cane sugar, cocoa, fish, salad crops, and tinned fruit and vegetables being the mostly likely culprits.
An Oxfam human rights’ impact assessmentstudy into a Finnish supermarket group’s processed tomato supply chain in Italy uncovered human rights’ abuses -widespread low wages, excessive working hours, the risk of forced and child labour,and unsafe and unsanitary housing without running water and electricity (1).
Harvest of exploitation
Furthermore, a disturbing article in a July 2020 issue of German magazine DER SPIEGEL detailed how appallingly Europe’s seasonal migrant workers are treated (2).
Every year, millions of seasonal workers across Europe pick much of the low-cost produce available in European supermarkets. Coming from extremely poor communities in Eastern Europe they are often tricked into believing that they will receive above average wages, enjoy excellent working conditions with accommodation and food provided. But an international research project has shown that many of these workers face abysmal conditions - and COVID-19 has exasperated an already dire situation. Despite the danger of infection, all too often seasonal migrant workers were forced to work without masks or access to hand disinfectants.
On arrival at a fruit farm in Germany in 2020, the identity cards of each migrant worker from a village in east Romania were immediately confiscated. Working 10-hour days for an hourly rate more than half of the German minimal hourly wage, they were housed in cramped, squalid living quarters in an outbuilding, where constant din of agricultural machinery rendered sleep impossible. Three weeks after their arrival, upon asking their German boss about their promised work contracts, they were instantly dismissed from the farm, unpaid and penniless to survive on the streets.
Abuses go unchecked as migrant agricultural workers are often hidden from the outside world in huts or housing containers usually located outside municipalities and obscured from public view. A horror that is replicated globally.
Journalists from the European media reported on the abysmal working and living conditions of seasonal migrant workers reporting in France, the Netherlands, Germany, Italy, Spain and Greece unearthed a pattern of systematic exploitation in the heart of Europe.
After visiting settlements in Cadiz, Spain, on the outskirts of Huelva’s fields in February 2020, United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights Olivier De Schutter said that the conditions "rival the worst Ihave seen anywhere in the world (2).
Yet this is of no concern to the evil people traffickers.
In Spring 2020 a Romanian seasonal worker, Nicolae Bahan, went to Bad Krozingen, Germany to help bring in the asparagus harvest for a company proud of its working conditions. However, during the time there he was housed in a small unventilated container where Nicolae caught COVID-19, likely from his fellow workers. He tragically died halfway through his assignment in late April (3).
Sadly, little has changed since February 2004 when 21 migrant cockle pickers from China drown in Morecambe Bay, United Kingdom. They died because their boss hadn’t told them of the rapid incoming tides (4).
The consumer is always king and once they become aware of the heinous work and squalid living conditions endured by those harvesting their cheap food, their purchasing behaviour will change.
But what will inform consumers’ choices?
Download the free slavefreetrade’s Freedomer App for smartphones to enable you to trace how and where the products you’re browsing were manufactured and whether they were produced by slave-free labour. Then you’ll be transforming the lives of victims of modern slavery and giving them the chance of enjoying decent Human rights.
1. https://www.reutersevents.com/sustainability/we-know-most-global-companies-have-modern-slavery-their-supply-chains- accessed 17 August 2022;
3. https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2020/04/27/roma-a27.html - accessed 17 August 2022;
4. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/england/lancashire/3827623.stm - accessed17 August 2022.