Spain's salad growers are modern-day slaves, say charities
08 February 2011
Published at 10:27 Comments (1)
The exploitation of tens of thousands of migrants used to grow salad vegetables for British supermarkets has been uncovered by a Guardian investigation into the €2bn-a-year (£1.6bn) hothouse industry in southern Spain.
Charities working with illegal workers during this year's harvest claim the abuses meet the UN's official definition of modern-day slavery, with some workers having their pay withheld for complaining. Conditions appear to have deteriorated further as the collapse of the Spanish property boom has driven thousands of migrants from construction to horticulture to look for work.
The Guardian's findings include:
• Migrant workers from Africa living in shacks made of old boxes and plastic sheeting, without sanitation or access to drinking water.
• Wages that are routinely less than half the legal minimum wage.
• Workers without papers being told they will be reported to the police if they complain.
• Allegations of segregation enforced by police harassment when African workers stray outside the hothouse areas into tourist areas.
The situation of migrants working in the tomato, pepper, cucumber and courgette farms of Almeria is so desperate that the Red Cross has been handing out free food to thousands of them. Its local co-ordinator described conditions as "inhuman". Anti-Slavery International said the Guardian's evidence was "deeply disturbing", and raised the "spectre of de facto state sanctioning of slavery in 21st century Europe".
Mohammed's story is typical of thousands of Africans working under the sweltering heat of plastic greenhouses.
He arrived illegally in southern Spain from Morocco in 2004 to work in the hothouses, having paid €1,000 to smugglers to bring him in a fishing boat. He said back then he could earn €30 for an eight-hour day. Now he's lucky to get €20 a day.