“Solidarity isn’t a crime”: Taken to court for installing solar panels

A union leader has been threatened with court action alongside the company that installed solar panels bought using Ethical Consumer crowdfunder money.

In July 2020, Ethical Consumer ran a crowdfunding campaign to provide emergency support during the first pandemic lockdown for migrant labourers working in southern Spain. We have been campaigning for over two years to highlight the exploitative working conditions in the region, which supplies many of the fresh vegetables in UK supermarkets.

In December, a representative of the SAT Union in Huelva was threatened with legal charges by the Spanish police, seemingly over the installation of solar panels that were funded by our crowdfunding campaign.

José Antonio Brazo says that the Civil Guard, the Spanish police, told him at the end of December that he was being investigated in relation to crimes related to "land planning." The penalty for this crime could be up to four years in prison.

The Civil Guard said that the Lucena del Puerto City Council was behind the accusation. So far, the authorities have refused to provide specific details about why he is being investigated, but the company responsible for the installation of the 6 solar panels has also been informed that they are being investigated for the same crime. Both he and the solar panel installers are awaiting a court summons.

As of March 2021, there are no updates on when they will be summoned.

José told us, “Some of the money from the Ethical Consumer crowdfunder was used to buy photovoltaic solar energy equipment, which provides light, mobile phone charging, and powers a communal freezer in the shantytowns. The four solar panels have improved the lives of migrants – even if they’re not yet living the dignified life they deserve.”

“The only crime that’s been committed is helping install solar panels in an immigrant shantytown. Solidarity isn’t a crime.”

Solar panels in southern Spain with migrant workers
The panels provide light and mobile phone charging in the shantytowns

Tackling poor living conditions

In Huelva, thousands of workers and their families live in settlements, in housing made out of wooden pallets, cardboard and plastic from the local greenhouses. Solar panels are particularly beneficial to settlement residents because they prevent the need to use candles for light in the evenings. As shacks are makeshift and regularly built from flammable materials candle use is incredibly hazardous. Fires are common and have devastating impacts. In February 2021, a fire left 500 agricultural workers homeless.

The money for the panels was raised by Ethical Consumer at the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. Migrant workers living in the settlements, who provide fruits and vegetables for UK supermarkets, were confined to the cramped settlements where they live due to social-distancing laws.

Many workers were left unable to work during the pandemic (due to restrictions on travel), meaning that they had no income and were in urgent need of supplies. Many continue to lack access to running water, basic sanitation or food.

Ethical Consumer readers met the initial Crowdfunder target of £6000 for urgent supplies in just 4 hours. A total of £26,000 was raised overall - providing the union with the resources needed to make purchasing solar panels possible, alongside other vital supplies like food and PPE.

What are the issues and what can you do?

Workers' rights violations, fires and inadequate living conditions prevail in the settlements.

Read more about our campaign calling on UK supermarkets to stop sourcing from exploitative companies in southern Spain.