The attacks on Almeria’s agriculture return, with Brexit on the horizon

The Guardian Website

2020 has been a catastrophic year in many ways, but perhaps it is helping us to show the importance of the jobs to which society does not give much merit. Maybe that is why this year we farmers have received fewer attacks on our industry than in other years: it is difficult to criticize a sector that worked at full capacity in the most uncertain months, because we know well that food supply was (and is) one of the most fundamental needs of all societies. It was difficult to criticize us at the time, but months have passed, and with Brexit on the horizon, they couldn’t leave us in the field alone.

On September 20, the British newspaper The Guardian published an article entitled: “’We pick your food’: migrant workers speak out from Spain’s ‘Plastic Sea’”. The article has very powerful visual components, with aerial images of settlements alternating with aerial images of our greenhouses.

It is undeniable that these settlements exist, just as it is also undeniable that farmers are not responsible for their existence. In fact, we may be their best opportunity to get out of them.

It is true that our sector is sustained by the work of these and many other people, as our agriculture is an opportunity for them to find the better life they are looking for. Almería is European, and labor exploitation is a crime here that is prosecuted and punished by law. If there is a business owner, in this or other sectors, who takes advantage of the vulnerable situation in which these people live, it does not represent inabsolute the thousands of law-abiding farmers from Almeria who work side by side with their staff.

We would like to know what journalists propose that Almeria farmers should do in order to end the shame that we should feel as a society: that there are people who have to live in unworthy conditions on European soil. Perhaps they believe that we are the ones who should seek decent housing for people who cross the Mediterranean in search of a better life–and this might be the case if we were responsible for that situation. But what do they really believe? Are we, the farmers of Almeria, responsible for the fact that in the most resource-rich continent on the planet there live people with far fewer resources? Is it our fault that they have to risk their lives in the Mediterranean to seek a better life? Are we responsible for the laws preventing them from obtaining a work permit until it’s proven that they have lived here for three years?

Of course, if we are responsible for something, it is at best a responsibility shared with the rest of society, the same that we can have over the refugee camps in Greece: we tolerate their existence, and we should not. We are as guilty as the journalists who write this article. Well, at least we have denounced the situation to the administration, although it seems that the media is not interested in focusing on those who have a real responsibility to solve this situation.

We are tired of being continually attacked by talking about exceptions as if they were the rule. The reality in the province of Almería is much broader. Unfortunately, images like the ones we see in these settlements can be taken in many other places in Europe. But if someone ever bothered to come and take pictures of our cities, they would find a diverse society, with schools full of children representing cultures from Africa, Asia, America and Europe, with spaces to practice a variety of religions unimaginable for a province of this size. And we have all this thanks to migration and agriculture.

Also tiring to hear is the story that these people endure endless working days at temperatures above 50ºC… Farmers know how to work to avoid, both for ourselves and for our workers, the hot midday hours: starting at dawn when the days are longer, and relaxing when the end of the season arrives in the warmest months. It should not be forgotten that there are no large landowners here, but rather the model is based on family farming, where each farmer turns an average of 1.5 hectares and works side by side with his staff.

If they worked under the conditions here that they say in the article, there would be daily deaths. And if our workers lived in the conditions you show, they would not have worked here uninterruptedly in the worst months of the pandemic. But nonetheless, they did, with extremely low contagion rates.

Finally, remember that distribution chains can guarantee the proper treatment by the company to its workers, because there are quality standards that guarantee it, such as GRASP or SMETA. These hold a certification of social practices that is required by all the English supermarkets named as guilty of allowing this abuse in this article, and one that we are proud to renew year after year at Eurosol. Beyond that, the only way that they can guarantee to not find a single migrant  in Almería able to report abusive situations is by putting an end to the vulnerable situation of these people, and that, unfortunately, is not in our hands.

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