10 Farm Labor Scandals Making News in 2018

farm labor pic for web

Photo by Rosemary Gordon

Growers embroiled in farm labor scandals have made the news far too often. The truth doesn’t always seem to matter in these stories, but the result is the same in the long run: Growers are frequently portrayed as slave owners and human rights abusers.

To give you a sense of this, below are just a few of the headlines, all with a recent datelines. (We’ve also published a related article, “How to Avoid a Worker Related Scandal.“)

  1. Fighting Modern Slavery on Florida’s Farms
    At first glance, this story is about eradicating modern slavery. But it portrays Florida growers as monsters who are restrained from posting armed guards to keep workers picking and locking them into trucks at night only by the valiant efforts of freedom-loving fighters. It’s strongly implies these kinds of conditions are still rampant across the U.S., and that outside programs are slowly and steadily bringing farms into compliance with human rights.
  2. Migrant Farm Workers Still Suffer in the Fields
    Colorado Springs Independent
    This is actually an opinion article, and it shows. It expresses outrage that growers abuse migrant workers, houses them in chicken coops and shacks, and hypocritically ask Congress for aid for themselves, not their workers.
  3. Agricultural Workers Have the Highest Rates of Suicide in the Country
    New Food Economy
    Citing data that has since been retracted, this article explores suicide rates among farm workers and a new law in Washington State that addresses the issue.
  4. The Sex Abuse Behind Your Tomatoes
    The Village Voice
    A female migrant farm worker, together with other women, shares her story about the sexual harrasment they’ve experienced picking produce. They claim their male crew supervisors are often the aggressors. The newspaper then gathers data from multiple sources in order to explore the topic.
  5. Growing Pains: Guest Farm Workers Face Exploitation, Dangerous Conditions – Part 1 and 2”
    Capital & Main
    The fact that this is a two-part article tips you off to the extensive research done by its writers. Part 1 explores how California-based H-2A workers are on the receiving end of wage theft, unsafe working conditions, and other law-breaking activity. Part 2 delves into how H-2A weakens the position of what it calls resident laborers.
  6. These Farmworkers Know How to End Sexual Harassment in the Fields. Will Wendy’s Listen?
    The Nation
    This is a similar article to The Village Voice’s, but narrows in on if the fastfood chain Wendy’s will join the activist group’s program to end sexual harassment.
  7. Florida’s Farmworkers Take their Fight to Park Avenue
    Female migrant workers protesting sexual harrassment fasted for five days. They then marched along New York City’s Fifth Avenue to raise awareness of their plight.
  8. Migrant Farm Workers Vulnerable to Sexual Violence
    The Conversation
    Through the lens of a female farm worker who claims she was assaulted by her employer on a Canadian farm, The Conversation shares statistics on the issue. The stats make clear how extensive the issue is in Canada.
  9. Phoenix-Area Farm with ‘Inhumane’ Migrant Worker Conditions Settles
    An Arizona farm was caught housing Mexican workers in converted school buses and semi truck trailors in 2017. This article reports on the farm settlement with the U.S. Department of Labor. It seems these workers may be H-2A laborers, since the reporter refers to them as wroking under a temporary work visa.
  10. They Were Forced to Work Unless on Their ‘Deathbed,’ Blueberry Pickers Claim
    KUOW Public Radio
    A major 2017 scandal in the Northwest still got media attention in early 2018. A 28-year-old farm worker died after being taken to the hospital, and when rumors spread that he was denied medical treatment by the growers, protests erupted. A federal investigation launched, and although the grower was cleared of any wrongdoing in the worker’s death, the investigation found several workplace violations. Those findings led to a federal lawsuit, filed in January 2018, which spurred this article.

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Avatar for Ashley Ashley says:

This article is incredibly disappointing on many levels. The thrust of the article seems to cast doubt on all of these reports, yet the author provides zero evidence to the contrary for any of them. This is not only a poor excuse for journalism, it’s morally reprehensible. Does Growing Produce really stand behind articles that shed blanket doubt on farm worker abuses, with no counter-evidence, and blindly protect farm owners? I’m not saying there has never been an incorrectly reported farm abuse, but I am saying that farm workers are in precarious positions and often lack the basic protections from employers that ensure their safety.

The author writes “the truth doesn’t always seem to matter in these stories,” so my question for you is, do you care about the truth, Carol Miller?