“If you don’t want to work like a slave, you’re out.” 

Workers in Almeria, Spain say that they are denied the minimum wage and left without employment if they speak out.

New footage obtained by the BBC confirms allegations made by workers and unions that farms violate their basic rights, refusing minimum wage, safe working conditions, and the right to organise.

Thousands of migrant workers in Almeria, southern Spain, are employed on fruit and vegetable farms that supply UK supermarkets. For years, workers in the region have claimed that they face illegal payment and harsh working conditions.

Ongoing allegations

The BBC footage is just the latest in an ongoing series of reports from workers in the area.

The new footage published by the BBC shows a fruit picker confronting bosses with inaccurate payslips while other workers complain that one farm, owned by the company Godoy, has consistently falsified documents relating to pay.

It also appears to show the company using illegal workers to break a strike by their employees. Godoy themselves claim they are the centre of a smear campaign.

For the last year, Ethical Consumer has been covering and campaigning on the issues in the area.

“The same story is heard over and over,” Delia McGrath from the local union SOC-SAT wrote in Ethical Consumer in February 2019. “The minimum salary is not paid, the workers’ national insurance contribution is not paid for all the days worked, no rest break, no holiday pay, no transport costs, many hours extra worked but no overtime paid.”

The article from 2019 also reported that a twenty-seven-year-old worker had died after over exposure to agricultural chemicals.

Sadly, this is not an isolated incident of unsafe conditions.

In an interview with Ethical Consumer in September 2019, one worker told us about his companion, “This man has collapsed 3 times. They have obliged him to spray [agricultural chemicals on the crops], or get out. If he refuses, they will sanction him.”

Hosein, another worker interviewed for the article showed us scars on his hands and wrists from cleaning the channels on the roof of the greenhouse. “It’s like being in a circus. I have nothing to protect me, no helmet, no safety harness, no special shoes.”

Hosein said that he was given the unsafe job after being involved in a strike against his employer.

Long-running reports at Godoy

Ethical Consumer has covered other reports from workers at Godoy in the past.

In February 2019, Ethical Consumer reported that workers at Godoy had voted to strike indefinitely, stating that the company was avoiding paying the minimum basic salary and allowing unsafe use of agricultural chemicals. A lawyer for Godoy had also tried to prevent elections of a trade union representative taking place, according to the local union SOC-SAT, and there had been physical and verbal intimidation on the day of elections.

Supermarkets

Aldi and M&S say that they are now investigating the allegations against Godoy made by the BBC. But companies in the region are thought to be in the supply chains of all major supermarkets in the UK.

In 2018, over €280 million worth of fruit and vegetables were shipped to the UK from Almeria. The region is responsible for more half of Spain’s tomato exports and 70% of its pepper exports.

Ethical Consumer has been campaigning for supermarkets to take responsibility and address these abuses in their supply chains.

Crisis point

With Coronavirus, the situation has reached crisis point.

Failure of employers, the government and UK supermarkets to provide basic human rights has left many workers living in dire conditions. Thousand of workers and their families live in shanty towns in the area, in houses made of cardboard, pallets and plastic from the local greenhouses.

Since Spain declared a lockdown on the 14th March, the residents of the shanty towns have been told that they cannot leave these settlements. Yet the closest source of running water is sometimes several kilometers away, according to a UN report published in January.

Many are now also unable to work, due to travel restrictions, and as some companies pause operations. SOC-SAT union also says that companies are use the pandemic as an excuse to make covert lay-offs.

Already forced to off each months wages, many workers now have no income to pay for food, medicine or other basic supplies.

“Under normal circumstances the conditions for the day labourers who live in the settlement are shocking. After more than 15 days of alarm, the situation is desperate," José from the local agricultural union SOC-SAT Almeria told us in mid-March.

Ethical Consumer has launched a Crowdfunder to support relief work by organisations in the area. Any money raised will help buy food, medicine, nappies and other vital supplies.

We continue to call on supermarkets to address these chronic issues in their supply chains.

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