Giving Compass' Take:

• Susan L. Marquis explains how progress is being made for farmworkers in Europe based on learnings from the United States. 

• How can funders advance this work throughout the world? 

• Learn about a successful farmworker movement


Thousands of seasonal strawberry pickers in Spain are women from Morocco on temporary visas. To supply markets in the United Kingdom and elsewhere with fresh berries, they work 12-hour shifts in overheated greenhouses, live in overcrowded rooms and according to lawsuits, some were victims of human trafficking, sexual assault, and rape.

In Turkey, the Syrian refugees who pick most of the world's hazelnuts live in roadside plastic tents and get paid with IOUs until the end of harvest. Child laboris common. In Southern Italy, the mafia recruits African migrants directly from shelters to labor in citrus or tomato fields. Gangmasters then seize whatever identity documents they have and threaten violence against them if they leave.

Those at the bottom of the agricultural supply chain are vulnerable to horrible abuse—slavery, at the extreme. But the same was true in the tomato fields of Florida in the United States until not too many years ago—and the solution developed there may offer a roadmap for doing right by those who put food on the market shelves.

When the first egregious cases of farmworker slavery came to light in Florida in the mid-1990s, law enforcement officers and U.S. attorneys were ill-equipped to handle them. They didn't know how to interview workers who followed the seasonal crops and were threatened if seen talking to authorities. Cases could drag on for years. Just three Department of Labor inspectors were assigned to enforce labor laws for all the farms in the state. Its offices were open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays, when a farmworker would be in a field closely watched and far from a phone. Even if someone managed to call, they would have reached an answering machine with a message in English.

So it is in Europe today, where farmworkers are ignored or worse by government officials. In Italy, African workers without residency permits are demonized by politicians and regarded as ineligible for legal protection. The mafia (particularly the 'Ndrangheta in the region of Calabria) maintains a parallel “legal system” with little sympathy for a cheap labor force that organized crime profits from. In Spain, those few Moroccan women willing to report the sexual crimes against them find themselves locked in an interminable legal process.

Read the full article about saving farmworkers by Susan L. Marquis at RAND.