Friday, June 04, 2010

HRW Releases Report on Child Labor in U.S. Agriculture

Last month, Human Rights Watch released a report called Fields of Peril, a 99-page report that details the risks the child farmworkers face concerning their safety, health, and education on commercial farms across the United States. HRW interviewed 70 children under age 18 who were or are legally employed as farmworkers in 14 states in various regions of the U.S.

As the report details, agriculture is a tricky industry when it comes to child labor. The rules and regulations are different than almost any other industry allowing children as young as 12 years of age to work legally in what are often times very hazardous conditions. In fact, the report cites that from 2005-2008, there were 43 minors who died from work related injuries in crop production. "The risk of fatal injury for agricultural workers ages 15 to 17 is more than 4 times that of other young workers."

In addition to these risks, the report exposes readers to the long-term health consequences often suffered by children working in agriculture who are often exposed to pesticides, suffer from injuries from repetitive motions, work despite injuries, and work despite extreme cold or heat. Crop workers on U.S. farms suffer from heat fatalities at a rate of 20 times higher than any other U.S. civilian workers.

The abuses they suffer do not end there: many must work long hours furthering their health and safety risks and affecting their school performance (if they are able to go to school at all); many children stated their employers do not provide sanitation facilities and drinking water on-site (despite the fact OSHA requires these be provided to farms with more than 10 workers); girls also experience significant sexual harassment and violence.

Although the report focused on the interviews it collected, which were only with minors who were legally employed in the agricultural field, Fields of Peril also interviewed service providers who work with undocumented minor agricultural workers, both unaccompanied and those with their parents. Unaccompanied minors, however, are a growing population according to service providers who work with farmworkers.

Those who are undocumented or whose parents are undocumented live under constant fear of deportation or separation from their families. This fear, according to a service provider interviewed for the report, trumps any desire to report abuses: "Even people who are documented have family members who are undocumented so they are afraid to speak up."

All of these risks create a precarious situation for any minor working in the agricultural industry. It is no coincidence that abuse, fatalities and injuries occur at such a high rate and that even the weak laws that do protect the workers are poorly enforced. Unaccompanied migrant children, in particular, represent a significant risk group for trafficking because the ability to coerce and force these young people is stronger due to a broader set of vulnerabilities. Not to mention the risk of girls being exposed to sexual exploitation. It is interesting that it is still required to show force, fraud and coercion to prove a case of child trafficking for labor as this is not a requirement for cases involving trafficking for sexual exploitation.

The report is definitely worth reading. You will learn more about the kind of labor that often goes into putting food in U.S. grocery stores and restaurants and, eventually, all of our plates. Hopefully, this will inspire many concerned about trafficking in our food system to get involved. The report includes recommendations in the final section. Pay attention in particular to the recommendations to state and federal lawmakers and contact your representatives to put pressure on them to pass these recommendations.

For the full report, please click here.

1 comment:

  1. The US agri-industry has been the #1 slave trader/trafficker for centuries. It continues to go under the radar of our nation's eye b/c it literally "uses" a migrant population that is viewed as having no value nor worth in our culture. Americans--and, that esp. addresses our government officials--care more about their food being stamped w/a sticker that reads "organic" than about the worker growing their food source. The US agri-idustry is the red-headed step-daughter that America continues to turn a blind eye towards. THANK YOU for including this post on your blog! IT IS VITAL for our movement to be inclusive. ~peace