Archives

Commentary

pesticide sprayingOne of the ALEC bills that is making the rounds across the country is so-called “ag gag” legislation, designed to prevent animal rights groups from conducting undercover operations to film abuses of animals on factory farms and research facilities.

In North Carolina, the House has passed HB 405, the Property Protection Act. While not precisely an ag gag bill, the intent to restrict anyone from shedding light on embarrassing or illegal activity appears the same. A person who “intentionally gains access to the nonpublic areas of another’s premises” and commits an “act that substantially interferes with the ownership or possession of real property” may be liable to the property owner for $5000 per day. Also liable is any person who directs another to engage in the prohibited activities.

The primary purpose of HB 405 may be to keep animal exploitation out of the news, a move opposed by nearly three quarters of North Carolinians, according to a recent poll.  The effects, however, could be even more sweeping.  If this bill passes, will a farmworker be able to take pictures of illegal migrant housing conditions to provide to the Department of Labor? Will a tester who does not intend to accept employment be able to apply for a job to test whether illegal race discrimination is taking place? What will happen to the worker who takes a picture similar to the one posted here?

Commentary

Farmworker Justice released a report last week analyzing 8 years of USDOL’s enforcement data of laws protecting farmworkers.  It should come as no surprise that the report, “U.S. Department of Labor Enforcement in Agriculture: More Must be Done to Protect Farmworkers,” found high rates of violation of both the Fair Labor Standards Act’s minimum wage requirement and basic protections afforded farmworkers under the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act. However, the report also found that USDOL has improved its enforcement efforts in recent years.

The report caught the attention of David Weill, Administrator of USDOL’s Wage and Hour Division.  In response, Weill writes:

Agricultural workers are among the most vulnerable, at-risk populations that the U.S. Department of Labor protects. They are typically unaware of their rights, or afraid to speak up. They often fall victim to wage, health and safety violations as they toil for long hours, often in harsh conditions, to put food on tables across the nation. . .

We have made progress in protecting workers, yet, challenges remain and we must face them in the most effective, efficient ways possible. Since we will never be able to investigate or to provide training to every grower directly, we will continue to deploy our resources strategically to improve compliance as broadly as possible.  We are committed to strengthen the results of every investigation. We will not play a game of whack-a-mole correcting violations on a case-by-case basis. We find the causes of the violations and address them.

You can read his full blog post here.  Farmworker Justice and Weill both agree that USDOL must continue with the trend of more enforcement in order to deter agricultural employers from violating the basic rights of their employees and to protect hard-working farmworkers from abuse.

 

Commentary
MP-Tobacco

Members of British parliament tour an NC tobacco field

How bad is the situation for farmworkers in North Carolina these days? This ridiculously bad: A member of the British parliament gave a speech yesterday in the House of Commons in which he spoke about his fact-finding mission here and likened what he found to “modern slavery.”

It’s hard to know what’s worse: that we’re rightfully being treated as some kind of third world country or that it takes someone from Great Britain to do the job being ignored by our own leaders.

This is from the good people at the Farm Labor Organizing Committee:

MP POINTS TO ABUSES IN NORTH CAROLINA TOBACCO FIELDS DURING HOUSE OF COMMONS DEBATE AS A MODERN SLAVERY RISK

December 16, 2014 – In an Adjournment Debate in the House of Commons this morning on human rights abuses in UK company supply chains, Ian Lavery, MP from Wansbeck, spoke to the conditions he found on a fact finding visit to the tobacco fields of North Carolina in July of this year as a “modern slavery risk.” The debate was in support of the Modern Slavery Bill, which would investigate and monitor modern slavery risks in UK company supply chains, is presently going through Parliament.

British American Tobacco, based in London, is a major customer and largest owner of Reynolds American Inc., which contracts with North Carolina tobacco growers.

Lavery said “the working conditions that we saw were absolutely atrocious, with unbelievably long hours of manual labour in unbearable heat; squalid living conditions, which mean workers have a lower quality of life than inmates in UK prisons; and employers showing a total disregard for basic health and safety regulations … which meant that many of them develop green tobacco sickness, an affliction with symptoms including nausea, intense headaches, vomiting and insomnia.” Read More

News

UnknownAt a meeting held yesterday, two members of the British Parliament, Ian Lavery and James Sheridan, released their fact-finding report about the conditions of farmworkers working in North Carolina tobacco fields.

The report, A Smokescreen for Slavery: Human Rights Abuses in UK Supply Chain, exposes a horrific list of human rights violations including child labor by children as young as seven, substandard housing with no ventilation and bug infested mattresses, and exploitation of workers by having them work inhumane hours for very little pay. Other areas of concern identified by the report include a lack of access to clean drinking water for workers and a lack of protective clothing to prevent infection from pesticides and even from the tobacco plant itself. The report also explains that some of the inhumane living and working conditions are permitted by lax labor standards. For example, under North Carolina law, it is legal for thirty men to share two toilets with no dividers. Read More

Commentary

As has been reported on this site on multiple occasions (and as amazing and discouraging as the truth is), the scandal of child labor in one of the country’s most dangerous professions remains a reality in modern America. Children as young as seven are still trooping into America’s (and North Carolina’s) tobacco fields to harvest the poisonous crop on a regular basis.

Today, Baldemar Velazquez, the President of the Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC) will offer a solution to this absurd situation in a presentation outside of the Global Tobacco Networking Forum — an industry confab at the swanky Greenbrier resort in West Virginia. Click here to read his statement. This is from the announcement from FLOC:

FLOC PRESIDENT VELASQUEZ TRIES TO OFFER PLAN FOR ELIMINATING CHILD LABOR IN US TOBACCO FIELDS AT WEST VIRGINIA MEETING OF TOBACCO EXECUTIVES

FLOC President Baldemar Velasquez brought his plan to eliminate child labor in US tobacco fields to the Global Tobacco Networking Forum at The Greenbrier, in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia.

FLOC represents and advocates for tobacco farm workers in North Carolina and the South, and has a collective agreement with the North Carolina Growers Association which covers the H2A workers who come from Mexico to the work in the tobacco fields.

The Global Tobacco Networking Forum describes itself as the “Davos” of the tobacco industry, met in Cape Town, South Africa in 2013, and is organized by industry publication, Tobacco Reporter.
Over 200 tobacco company executives from around the world have come to The Greenbrier to discuss and network about the issues that challenge the tobacco industry, and one of these issues is the elimination of child labor in the tobacco fields globally.

A recent Human Rights Watch Report showed the prevalence of child labor in the tobacco fields of North Carolina.

President Velasquez had hoped to present his plan to eliminate child labor in the US tobacco fields to the GTNF session on Child Labor but could not obtain entrance to the session. So instead, President Velasquez will hold a separate briefing at the Greenbrier on How to Eliminate Child Labor in US Tobacco Fields, Friday, October 3 at 6:10pm in the Filmore Room. President Velasquez has invited GTNF participants to attend and hear FLOC’s plan.
FLOC ended child labor in the tomato and cucumber fields of Ohio, and President Velasquez said: “if we could do it in Ohio, than we can do it in North Carolina and anywhere else in the US where tobacco is grown.” Read More