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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

Uncategorized

farmworkerIt’s National Farmworker Awareness Week: Time to celebrate the dedication and strength of the people who plant and harvest our food.  Farmworkers are exceptional people in so many ways: their incredibly hard work, the courage of many of them in seeking a new life in another country, and their persistence in the face of so many challenges.  Unfortunately, farmworkers are also exceptional in a way that no one wants to be.  Agricultural exceptionalism is a well-established concept in American law – the notion that agriculture is somehow so different from other industries that this justifies treating agricultural workers in ways we would not dream of treating other workers.

What does agricultural exceptionalism mean for farmworkers?  For starters, no entitlement to overtime pay for hours worked over 40 (and there are many of those long hours during peak harvest season). There’s also no minimum wage for labor done on a small farm. Farmworkers who join together to press for better living and working conditions don’t have federal labor law protections. Children as young as 10 can legally work in the fields. And most North Carolina farmers are not required to provide workers’ compensation for their employees, who toil in one of the most dangerous jobs in the country.

Let’s take this Farmworker Awareness Week to support those who push to make farmworkers unexceptional, including:

Please use this Farmworker Awareness Week to join their fight.