The Strawberry Mafia, Huelva
Spain’s strawberry production began in the 1980s and grew dramatically after Spain’s entry into the European Union in 1986. Spain has been the dominant producer globally for close to a decade and some 300,000 tonnes are harvested each year with record highs in 2017.
For this reason, seasonal agricultural workers are in high demand with peaks in April-May. Although, there are some Spanish farming organisations that choose to recruit legally and with contracts, others collect many of the undocumented workers waiting in plazas for work. Studies have shown even those with a contract, cannot read it as it is often not in their native tongue.
A vast majority are migrant women from Morocco and Romania, with limited knowledge of Spanish and their human rights. They live in cramped, closed housing, without appropriate excess to sanitation and are permitted a shower only once per week. They work from dusk to dawn, in the intense 40+ degree Andalusian heat, without tools or machinery, back breaking manual labour not too distant from the images we know of slaves in cotton fields. The women are verbally abused called ‘bitches’ and threatened to be sent back to their country ‘to starve,' they can be hit when pausing for respite from the heat and labour or accidentally damaging ‘stock’. On top of these daily humiliations many face routine sexual abuse.
Rape is a nightly occurrence in their quarters. They fear the foreman and their boss.
Living in abhorrent socio-laboral conditions isn’t a new thing for Huelva.
Huelva, has historically been a location of exploitation for both its natural resources and workers, it was once the home of the British Mining Firm ‘Rio Tinto,' the poisonous sulphurous gases known as ‘manta’ poisoned the workers, the locals and the environment. A Cuban worker Maximiliano Tornet, the supposed leader of an anarchist movement, protested against the mining giant with a sum close to 700 other workers in 1888. When the military came in to ‘disperse’ the revolutionaries the locals, and those from the next village called it ‘The Year of Shots’.
An academic researcher Moreno Bolaños uncovered a document about the ‘unofficial dead’ after a researcher who was investigating British sports at the time in the Mining Basin, “the author was the nephew of the machinist who, on the night of February 4 to 5, 1888, transported the corpses of the unofficial dead in a punt that admitted up to 10,000 kilos of weight to the place where they were buried”. So we know there were mass casualties.
A recent 2018, investigative study, rigoursly pursued by independent journalists at correctiv.org found that there were peaks in abortion rates, in the fruit picking seasons, in both Palos de La Frontera and the neighbouring town Moguer.
Josefa Mora Gomez, A social worker at the community centre for public health, signs off all abortion requests, her observations are that,
“During the season of gathering fruits, when immigrant workers come, there is a peak in the abortion rate, with majority of (the) request (s) coming from Moroccan, Romanian and Bulgarian women". According to Gomez, there were 185 abortions in 2016, 90 per cent chosen by immigrant workers in the field. She presumed that many abortions could be due to rape.
Today, these disused mines have been marked for large scale dumps and Huelva is now in peak season. We know that tonight a woman is likely to be abused because she is working and living in unsafe conditions. In 2018 is this what we accept, physical, emotional and sexual abuse of migrant workers?
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