Monday, February 21, 2011

Modern Day Slavery In Almería

This depressing report from the Guardian on conditions in the greenhouses of Almería appeared a couple of weeks ago. Much of the report doesn't come as a great surprise to anyone a little bit familiar with the way in which a good proportion of Europe's vegetables are produced using immigrant labour working and living in often appalling conditions. Much of this came to light several years ago following the racist pogrom in the town of El Ejido. Whether you are aware of the issue or not, the accompanying video is well worth watching.

What I didn't know about until today was the dreadful response of the local media to the Guardian's report. Via David Jackson's blog I came across the articles which the local Voz de Almería has run on the issue. Unable to acknowledge in any way that much of the wealth of the region has been built on the exploitation of immigrant labour, they attempt to characterise the report as sensationalist journalism and portray the exploiters as if they were the victims. This, together with the typical and pathetic "there are problems everywhere" attempt to minimize the importance of what happens in the region.

Apart from the portrayal of the conditions which immigrant workers have to put up with, one of the most interesting aspects of the video is the effective confirmation that there has been a deliberate policy in Spain of directing illegal immigrants to areas like Almería where the government knows they will be working. Obviously for very low wages and without any rights. When you hear politicians who complain about the regularisation process that was carried out a few years ago for paperless immigrants, you have to remember that what those politicians seek is a situation just like that which exists in the greenhouses.


leftbanker said...

My younger brother is an automation engineer in the USA and travels around to factories throughout the country. He tells me that more and more factories in the USA have a management team to run the business and then contract temporary workers to do the actual work in the plant. It’s like the old plantation system where the overseers make a decent living while the workers make around the minimum wage. The workers are exploited by the factories and then by the temp agencies who hire them.

It’s like we rolled up the gains made by workers in the 20th century in the first decade of the 21st.

How do we fight back? Stop eating vegetables?

leftbanker said...

If the woman in the Guardian video was really doing her job as a journalist she would have traveled a little farther up the food chain and interviewed executives in the UK supermarkets. What she exposes in the video is the easy, obvious break-down in the capitalist system but this exploitation couldn't exist without the full cooperation of everyone in the process.

Graeme said...

Yes, it's hard to believe that the supermarkets buying the produce aren't aware of the situation. The funny thing is that we are more likely to hear about kids making sports shoes in Asia than we are to hear about similar exploitation here in Europe.

The problem I have is that we shouldn't have to depend on the will of the supermarkets to do something. This is what deregulation brings, proponents of it will never say that this is the situation that they want because we're all supposed to believe that employers will behave in a civilised way. But this is what you get.

Tom said...

@Leftbanker - I think she did a good job. Many of my Spanish colleagues were upset by the video: they'd never heard of this happening in Spain.

The only way to possibly avoid this sort of thing is to know where your fruit and veg come from, possibly join a cooperative.

I'm sure Spanish supermarkets buy this crap too.