Just one more reason Monsanto and other Big Ag corporations are horrible.
Big Agricultural companies, such as Monsanto and DuPont Pioneer, are often criticized for a variety of reasons: their use of GMOs and how they contaminate organic crops, the toxicity of their herbicides and pesticides, the effect they have on small farms, and how they use their power and billions of dollars to manipulate politics.
However, one particularly horrible and non-abstract aspect of these companies’ dealings is how they treat migrant workers and the conditions the workers are forced to live in. The Big Ag corporations have thousands of migrant labor camps scattered around the country with thousands of underpaid migrants working at each camp.
When state inspectors visit these camps, they find violations as often as 60 percent of the time. Despite giving citations and ordering the properties to make the necessary changes to comply with the law, the demands are often ignored because inspection agencies have little to no power or means of enforcement.
The migrants’ only method of truly protesting these camps and the way they live is to file a lawsuit against the agriculture giants, which the businesses try to avoid by using third-party recruiters and private landlords to house the migrants. Instead of migrants suing the corporation, they often settle for taking up their concerns with the private landlords.
The devil is in the details of these camps, and the only way to understand what these workers endure is to listen to their personal accounts of the conditions they were forced to live in. One worker, Baltazar Arvizu, a 50-year-old migrant farmworker in Indiana, said,
“I’ve stayed in housing that is very similar to barns for animals,” adding, “We used to live 80 in a barn. We just had two bathrooms for 80 people.”
Other workers who sued Monsanto for paying them well below the minimum wage also said in their initial complaint that the labor-recruiter for Monsanto had promised them free housing with kitchen facilities. Instead, the workers were placed in cramped motels with no kitchen, and then moved to a former nursing home where they were forced to pay $300 per month in rent. The “kitchen” that was provided was an old school bus with some stoves and fridges with little ventilation and space for the 30 workers who used it.
One couple, who was working for Sawyer Nursery in Michigan, said that they lived in an apartment complex with dozens of other workers that was well below federal and state standards. Though they were lucky to even have an apartment, as most are housed in even worse settings, the entire complex was infested with bed bugs and had no faucet in the shower so they would bathe by dumping water on their heads.
State inspectors noted that the place had 10 critical violations, including mice, cockroaches and a lack of smoke detectors. Though they had been cited for similar violations before and after the couple lived there, the complex did nothing to make any changes and remains unlicensed as a qualified operator.
Unfortunately, these companies take advantage of the workers because they are often illegal immigrants that have no bargaining power because they could be deported if they make too much noise about the deplorable conditions. It’s also difficult for the workers to find independent housing because of the cost associated with deposits and renting a room or apartment, leaving them with no alternative options.
While some states are cracking down on inspections, enforcement, and raising the standards for acceptable living conditions, there is still a long way to go before these people are treated fairly. More inspectors need to be hired to cover more facilities, heftier fines need to be imposed for those caught violating the laws, and more money needs to be pumped into housing to improve conditions. It all comes down to legislature, so concerned citizens can elect officials dedicated to these issues if change is to be implemented.