Food In Focus Series: “Looting” Bodies and Wages on US Farms

30 Apr
harvest of shame

Harvest of Shame Film, CBS 1960. 

“Farmer: We used to own our slaves, now we rent them.” (Harvest of Shame Film, Edward R. Murrow, CBS 1960) 

migrant farm workers planet matters and more

Migrant Workers.

While news and images of “looting” in Baltimore cram our social media feeds and television screens… there are other forms of “looting” that occur each day on US farms, factories, on construction sites, and even in homes, decades after the end of slavery in the USA. The theft of lives and wages of farm workers by US employers continue.

International Justice Mission noted that between 1997 and 2011 the Justice Department had prosecuted 7 cases of slavery, liberating 1,000 farm workers from forced labor.

And each day, one farm worker dies from work-related injuries. And because over half of all US farm workers are undocumented, these deaths (or any record that the laborer ever worked on the farm in the first place) go unreported.

While there is a long road ahead in addressing the plight of farm workers in the USA, promising models of for Worker-driven Social Responsibility (WSR) have emerged in the past few years. For instance The Coalition for Immokalee Workers’ Fair Food Program has taken a whole systems approach. The group addressing abuses across supply chain:  galvanizing farm workers, Florida tomato growers and participating retail buyers towards educating, monitoring and reporting on abuses.

A Sustainable Food Lab is also underway with activists, civic organizations and heads of agribusiness firms working collaboratively on advancing and promoting fair labor, fair trade and environmental remediation and protection.

This is just scratching the surface in addressing centuries of “legalized”, looting in the form of land disposition, genocide of indigenous people, enslavement of over 10 million of African people (2 million died en route), abusive sharecropping schemes or “neo-slavery” post- Civil War and present-day abuses of undocumented workers.

Not to mention the ecologic damage done by soil degradation, biodiversity loss and fresh water contamination and depletion.

In the next post I’ll share the role of youth leadership and school children in food justice efforts in NYC.

This post was adapted from an article by Roque Planas in the Huffington Post.##

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