In the wake of the heated Initiative 522 debate, it has become increasingly apparent that we, as Americans and residents of Washington State, are obsessed with food.
We are obsessed with what’s in it, whether or not it is gluten, dairy, or GMO free, if it’s good for our children, or if it’s environmentally friendly. But what we fail to consider is the mostly Hispanic migrant workers who brought us this food under horrible conditions.
This past year, millions of dollars went into GMO labeling initiatives and caused Americans to question what, exactly, is in their food. But the question that no one cares to ask is who had to suffer for it?
With gross revenues exceeding that of Apple, Amazon and Google combined, supermarkets such as Safeway and Kroger are some of the most lucrative corporations in the United States. Most Americans buy their food at supermarkets, but very few of them care to know how that food got there.
Fancy displays, bright colors and quaint packaging distract us from the ugly truth about our food — the truth about Hispanic migrant workers and the horrible working conditions that they are subjected to.
Migrant farm labor supports the $28 billion produce industry in the U.S., yet very little of that money actually goes to the workers. According to Shine Global, the average farm worker receives $42 for a full day of work, which typically lasts about 14 hours.
That rounds out to $3 an hour, which is well below minimum wage. The conditions are brutal, and the work is grueling. Workers often fall ill due to constant exposure to pesticides, harsh chemicals and unsafe working conditions.
According to the U.S Department of Labor, children under the age of 18 are protected by law from working in hazardous environments, working long hours and are guaranteed fair wages. However, in the agricultural industry, there are no such laws.
Children as young as 7 are permitted to work the fields for 10 hours a day, seven days a week. What’s equally dispiriting is that they receive less than $3 an hour for their labor.
Many people wonder why migrant workers don’t simply find other jobs if the conditions and pay are so horrible.
The answer is because they can’t.
Most workers immigrate to the U.S. They usually come from poor Hispanic countries and have little to no education.
They are desperate to make some sort of living, so they take the only jobs available, which are the only jobs that Americans won’t do, namely picking crops. The produce industry knows this, so it preys on workers’ vulnerability and need for quick cash.
And by exploiting eager workers, industries are able to make a large profit by selling the produce for more than triple the price of what it costs to pick.
The average apple costs upwards of a dollar, while the average migrant worker makes 50 cents for every bucket of apples they pick, rounding out to about 4 cents per apple. The remaining money goes straight into the pockets of grocery corporations.
The value of their labor is priced at next to nothing when the difficulty of performing this grueling job suggests that it should be so much more.
Natalie Pimblett is a junior political science major.