Agricultural Workers’ Rights in Almeria

Ethical Consumer is asking supermarkets to take responsibility for the rights of workers like Spitou who grow the produce they sell.

Spitou works in Almeria Spain where more than half of Europe’s fruit and vegetables are grown. Much of the produce that he and his colleagues grow and pick goes to UK supermarkets. But for many years workers from the region have protested against serious exploitation. 

Ethical Consumer is calling on UK supermarkets to act and make sure that their suppliers uphold workers’ rights. 

The problems faced by workers

Miles of plastic greenhouses cover the Almerian landscape, where peppers, tomatoes and other vegetables are grown. The greenhouses are surrounded by improvised shelters, where many of the workers live and which are periodically razed by local authorities. Their inhabitants say that they are overcrowded and often without running water. 

Workers here often receive as little as 32 euros for an eight-hour day. Employees are frequently expected to continue working whilst dangerous agrichemicals are being sprayed in the greenhouses or to use them without proper protection.

Some workers have been sacked for striking and the local union has reported physical, verbal and legal threats to stop the members electing representatives.

spitou mendy

Spitou’s story

Spitou Mendy was previously a teacher in Senegal:

“I have been here working and struggling for 19 years, working for many years under plastic. I have to say the main change in this time is: nothing. The companies are constantly trying to reduce wages and now, with the new minimum wage, if they have to give you a bit more they try and cut back some other benefit to increase their profits. So the 'low cost' type worker will continue to exist, obviously here in Almeria, but not just in Almeria, wherever you are. In Huelva it's the same system of exploitation of labour… 

“There are a few places, not many, who pay the minimum wage, but in the majority of the cases they take it from somewhere else, for example the travel costs which are supposed to be paid. There is little motivation to go and work in a greenhouse. This is an experience that I have lived. I am living it now and that is it.”

Some even less fortunate

At least one worker – twenty-seven-year-old Mohammed El Bouhaled – has died following chemical exposure in recent months. His death in January 2019 was found to be caused by “poisoning”, according to the autopsy report. Since then, his family and friends have been demonstrating to the council, demanding justice and safety for workers.

What can supermarkets do?

Although all the major UK supermarkets claim to have adequate policies in place, they are clearly failing to protect those in their supply chains in some instances. 

We are demanding that supermarkets:

  • Publish complete lists of suppliers, tracing back to the farms they source from.
  • Establish a whistle blowing hotline and make this available throughout their fruit and vegetable supply chains, including to farm level and agricultural unions such as SOC-SAT.
  • Regularly engage with agricultural unions like SOC-SAT and local NGOs by providing them with grievance mechanisms.
  • Commit to fully investigating issues reported by unions and NGOs and demand that suppliers redress the problems raised.
  • Put pressure on their suppliers to publish a list of the farms from which they buy produce.
  • Put pressure on international certifiers like Global GAP, Naturland, and BioSuisse to improve their audit processes: engage with workers outside of workplaces, away from the hearing and control of the management, where they are not frightened to relate the real labour conditions; and engage with local unions.
  • Put pressure on international certifiers like Global GAP, Naturland, and BioSuisse to establish a whistle blowing hotline and make this available throughout their fruit and vegetable supply chains, including to farm level and agricultural unions such as SOC-SAT.

We asked a number of supermarkets to respond to the situation in Almeria, including listing any measures that they take in order to avoid workers rights issues.

What the supermarkets say

“We require all of our suppliers to meet the Sainsbury’s Code of Conduct for Ethical Trade which is based on the Ethical Trading Initiative Base Code for ethical sourcing... Since 2015, we also have funded and supported the Spain Ethical Trade Supplier Forums, alongside other retailers and importers. The aim of the Forums is to improve Spanish growers’ understanding of labour and human rights issues and raise standards within the horticulture industry by building on best practice from companies within the sector.”

“We have been engaging with growers and suppliers in Spain for a number of years to help improve industry practice. This has primarily been through the ‘Spanish Ethical Forums (part funded by Tesco) which aim to raise awareness of labour issues within the supply base and build capacity to address them... We expect, and support, our key suppliers in the region to conduct due diligence to ensure learning from the forums are implemented and fair working conditions are maintained.”

“We respect human rights and have comprehensive checks in place to ensure that everyone in our supply chain who makes, grows and supplies our products is treated fairly. We are a sponsor of the Stronger Together initiative that supports businesses tackling modern slavery within their supply chains, and we support the Spain Ethical Trade Forums’ work to tackle labour rights concerns in the Spanish produce sector, including in Almeria.”

“All our suppliers must meet our Responsible Sourcing Code of Practice, which sets our expectations for protecting worker rights and providing safe and decent working conditions. Alongside this, we regularly review both the environmental and social sustainability on farms through our Waitrose Farm Assessment scheme and are an active member of the Spanish Ethical Trade Forum, a grower-led working group, sponsored by retailers and importers, which aims to drive improvements to work conditions on Spanish farms. We also continue to collaborate with industry colleagues, including other retailers, trade unions, NGOs and government to continuously improve worker welfare standards in the region and are working hard to ensure our recommended practices are being consistently applied."

 “The Co-op has a robust ethical trade monitoring programme in place in the regions mentioned to tackle issues faced by migrant workers directly.  Our suppliers are required to demonstrate compliance against the ETI Base Code and to provide evidence of continuous improvement in worker welfare. The Co-op has played a pivotal role since 2012 in developing supplier-led regional forums in Spain to drive improvements in working conditions. In 2015 we convened a large number of UK retailers and importers to create the Spanish Ethical Trade Supplier Forums, which provide a safe space for suppliers to share experiences and good practices, openly discuss challenges and work collaboratively to improve working conditions."

“As part of our business contracts, all of our suppliers are required to commit to our strict Code of Conduct, as well as implementing social and environmental standards, such as those defined by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. We also monitor the performance of our suppliers against our expectations using the Supplier Ethical Data Exchange platform (Sedex) and Global G.A.P. GRASP social risk assessment. In addition to this, we work closely with suppliers and growers to ensure that we fully understand the challenges they face and help to develop practical solutions. This is facilitated through the Spanish Ethical Trade Forums, an initiative that we fund and support in collaboration with other UK retailers and suppliers. Focus areas over the last year have included helping suppliers to build responsible recruitment practices, improving accommodation standards and supporting effective worker committees.”

“We recognise our responsibility to buy, produce and sell our products in an ethical and sustainable manner. We are members of the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI) and have an established approach to respecting human rights and tackling labour exploitation in our supply chains. In relation to this particular issue, we are active participants in the ETI working group on Modern Slavery and co-funded their research on human rights due diligence in Spanish agriculture.”

 “We work collaboratively to support our Spanish suppliers and have organised supplier forums in Southern Spain to raise awareness of our ethical trading standards and to provide growers with practical advice on meeting these standards, including the monitoring of labour agencies. We also have a dedicated team based in Almeria that works directly with our suppliers, ensuring they comply with a number of third-party standards such as GlobalGAP and Sedex.”

Spain is an important sourcing country for us and we source from a number of regions including Almeria. We work closely with our suppliers and growers to ensure the M&S products are being ethically and sustainably sourced as outlined in our Global Sourcing Principles and our Select Grower Field to Fork programme – which you can read more about here.

We have long term partnerships with our growers and suppliers that allow us to be fully transparent in our supply chain and to support change and drive improvement. Additionally, M&S have collaborated to support the establishment of regular Spanish Ethical Trade Forums, which provide growers and suppliers support on ethical issues including exchange and learning from peers, importers and retailers.

What can you do?

Email your nearest supermarket and ask them to commit to making the above changes.










Ongoing reports

Ethical Consumer will be publishing ongoing reports about the situation in Almeria. Sign up to our email newsletter to stay up to date. 

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