Farmworkers in the U.S.

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has issued a statement, released on December 19, following a visit to the United States by Maria Grazia Giammarinaro, UN Special Rapporteur in Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children.

The Special Rapporteur, in discussing trafficking, raised concerns about the vulnerability of agricultural guestworkers due to their non-immigrant status under the H-2A temporary foreign agricultural worker program and ongoing abuses under the program.

It is helpful at this moment to have objective observers investigate and comment on the H-2A temporary foreign agricultural guestworker program. Agricultural employers’ use of the H-2A visa program has grown rapidly and likely will continue to expand. Grower associations are campaigning to lower H-2A wage rates and reduce government oversight.

The UN Special Rapporteur said:
“The legal framework governing temporary visas for migrant workers, especially H-2A visa for temporary or seasonal agricultural work and H-2B visa for temporary or seasonal non-agricultural work visas, is of particular concern as it exposes applicants to the risk of exploitation, including human trafficking.”
In practice, she found that for many guestworkers reporting human rights violations or quitting their jobs to return home “is impossible because of the debts they incur from recruitment agencies’ fees.”

She called on the United States to improve the way the program operates and to do more to stop abuses.
Her comments echo our report, “No Way to Treat a Guest: Why the H-2A Agricultural Visa Program Fails U.S. and Foreign Workers,” available on our website.

The UN’s statement will be useful as we and allies defend farmworkers in the policy battle that will occur in the next Administration and Congress and seek to build a just immigration system that respects working people.

by Jessica Felix-Romero
(0 total comments)
Tuesday, 12 July 2016

The people who spend their days picking fruits and vegetables are struggling to find food for their own families. Numerous studies across the United States have thoroughly documented the staggering rates of both hunger and food insecurity that plague farmworker communities. For example, one study of Georgia farmworkers found that 63% of migrant and seasonal workers surveyed struggled to feed themselves and their families. Additionally, farmworkers often face countless barriers when trying to get food, including low wages, poor public transportation, and a lack of culturally-appropriate food, among others. Among farmworker families, the average income is between $17,500 and $20,000, which falls well below the 2016 federal poverty level of $24,300 for a family of four. Given these numerous barriers, what resources can farmworkers utilize to feed their families?

From federally-led programs such as the National School Breakfast Program to the local food pantry in your neighborhood, there are numerous government and charitable programs that help feed hungry Americans. Though participation varies region to region, the main programs that farmworkers typically access are the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP); the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program; and the National School Breakfast and Lunch Programs, in addition to local soup kitchens, food pantries, and other alternative food programs. When effectively implemented, federal nutrition programs have been effective in reducing food insecurity among some farmworker families. However, farmworkers often face a variety of barriers to accessing these food assistance programs, and the programs alone do not adequately address the alarming levels of food insecurity in farmworker communities. .

Immigration status poses a significant barrier for many farmworkers in accessing food assistance. For instance, SNAP identifies eligible categories of immigrants and generally requires that they have been in their qualified status for five years before receiving any cash transfers. Additionally, some farmworkers avoid enrolling in any federal nutrition programs because of the belief that participating in public assistance may compromise one’s immigration or residency status. Farmworkers also commonly live in rural communities, where resources such as food pantries and soup kitchens can be inaccessible for families without adequate transportation. Farmworkers who live in labor camps, motels, various forms of substandard housing or who are homeless also often lack the proper equipment for food preparation and storage. Other barriers include poor translation services, poor quality of food donations, and misinformation on eligibility and availability of resources. Thus, existing food assistance programs are not amenable to the unique needs and harsh living conditions of farmworkers.

So what can be done to solve this problem? A permanent solution requires that farmworkers receive fair wages to fully meet their families’ financial needs and that they have the opportunity to become immigrants and citizens with the same basic rights as other workers. In the short term, more emergency food programs must address the immediate hunger in farmworker communities by offering a larger, more frequent supply of fresh, healthy, and culturally-appropriate foods directly in farmworker communities. Sadly, one study in Northern California revealed that farmworkers, and especially those that are undocumented, already depend on emergency food as their main food source. Farmworkers can enroll in food assistance programs by visiting their local human services department or social service referral organizations. Simultaneously, service providers can also educate families about and enroll farmworkers into federal assistance programs like SNAP and WIC, to address the longer-term food insecurity. On a policy level, states can take action to expand their eligibility requirements for SNAP and other public assistance programs. For example, California provides state-funded food stamps to certain non-citizens who do not qualify for SNAP, a program known as the California Food Assistance Program.

Though drastically changing the current system of food assistance would greatly benefit farmworkers, these changes must consider factors such as language proficiency, cultural competency, and immigration status to be successful. Hunger doesn’t happen simply because a family doesn’t have enough to eat, but also because of a variety of factors unrelated to food; likewise, eliminating hunger does not require simply providing food, but also ensuring living wages and access to forms of federal assistance to eliminate poverty. A fundamental change in the current food assistance programs is vital for addressing hunger among farmworker communities, but we must continue to advocate for the overall livelihood of farmworkers to ensure the people that help us live a hunger-free and food secure life are also living a life that is free of hunger and food insecurity.


 

by Andrew Kim
(0 total comments)
Thursday, 31 March 2016

Today's guest blog is written by Peter O'Driscoll, Executive Director of the Equitable Food Initiative.  The Equitable Food Initiative (EFI) brings together workers, growers and retailers in the effort to produce better fruits and vegetables. As produce farms comply with the EFI Standard—for improved working conditions, pesticide management, and food safety—the entire food system sees benefits, all the way from farm workers to consumers.

There's a reason we still celebrate Farmworker Awareness Week each year. Despite landmark events over the past six decades -- from the broadcast of Edward R. Murrow's "Harvest of Shame" in 1960 through the campaigns of Cesar Chavez's United Farmworkers in the 1970s, the supply chain agreements of the Farm Labor Organizing Committee in the 1980s, the organizing of tomato workers in Immokalee and the more recent success of Oregon farmworkers on documentation and minimum wage -- most consumers just don't pay enough attention to the challenges facing those who harvest our fruits and vegetables.

Across those same decades, the produce industry itself has too often taken workers for granted. Thanks to an abundant labor supply, workers were seen as interchangeable, rather than as skilled and valuable assets. But that perception may well be changing. Enhanced immigration enforcement has significantly tightened the agricultural labor market, raising concerns among growers who can't find the workers they need to harvest their crops.

Meanwhile, as US growers increasingly source from Mexico to provide year-round supply, labor unrest and press accounts of harsh working conditions south of the border have convinced the produce industry that there are major vulnerabilities in its sprawling global supply chains. Many insiders acknowledge that "social compliance" is now as urgent a priority as food safety, an issue that always grabs consumers' attention.

As an unusual collaboration among retail, grower, labor and consumer organizations, the Equitable Food Initiative sees a tremendous opportunity for transformation in the produce industry. We believe that well-trained and fairly compensated workers can be a huge part of the solution to the industry's food safety and labor challenges. Our work with Costco Wholesale, Whole Foods and eight of their produce suppliers is already demonstrating that engaged and motivated workers can verify ongoing compliance with our rigorous standards. This spring, our first certified strawberries will be on Costco shelves with the "Responsibly Grown. Farmworker Assured." ™ label. More product will be available as the season advances, and we hope other retailers will join in supporting their suppliers to achieve EFI certification.
 

But beyond the assurance of compliance, EFI's experience with growers so far shows that new forms of labor-management collaboration can also create other forms of value. As with any industry, experienced farmworkers know a great deal about the produce they harvest, and can use the problem-solving skills they learn through EFI to explore ways to improve the production process, reduce waste and retain labor in a tight market. As more suppliers get involved, there are also opportunities for sharing best practices: rather than dictating how things should be done, EFI aims to build on the inherent knowledge that workers and their supervisors already bring to their profession. As EFI evolves, we learn and grow through the insight of our stakeholders.

Among our early-adopters is NatureSweet Tomatoes, a San Antonio-based company with multiple facilities in Mexico and Arizona. NatureSweet is "dedicated to increasing the sustainability of the land and the lives of all those surrounding our product." But by investing in the capacity of its workforce, the company also sees a significant competitive opportunity, and talks about a produce industry "ripe for disruption." All the growers we talk to seek to tap the potential of their workforce and promote a change of culture in the industry. EFI is excited to be part of what we see as a positive transformation. And it all starts with an awareness that farmworkers bring tremendous skill and knowledge to their trade. This week should be about helping to spread that awareness.

by
(0 total comments)
Subscribe to Farmworkers in the U.S.