OVIEDO, Spain (AA) - Agricultural migrant workers are systematically abused while working in the Spanish regions of Huelva and Almeria, according to a report released Friday by the UK organization, Ethical Consumer.
Both regions in southern Spain rely on vast networks of greenhouses filled with migrant labor to produce, harvest and export crops year-round.
The report said around half of the UK’s strawberry, raspberry and blackberry imports come from Huelva. Meanwhile, one in every four pepper imports and 12.5% of the UK’s tomatoes come from Almeria.
That is why Ethical Consumer is calling on UK supermarkets to use their power to protect the human rights of migrant laborers in Spain.
The report added to evidence that migrant workers are routinely refused legal wages and forced to work and live in unsafe conditions.
Some workers said they are humiliated, sexually harassed, docked pay for bathroom breaks or have their passports or wages withheld.
“Lots of people want to speak out, but they are afraid,” one worker told Ethical Consumer.
Local unions said it is common for workers who speak or try to unionize to be fired.
“For years, authorities and employers in southern Spain have been content to sit back and watch as migrant workers endure the most horrific, inhumane working conditions,” said UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights Olivier de Schutter.
Ethical Consumer slammed UK supermarkets for ignoring the “vast body of evidence” and failing to act on conditions in Almeria and Huelva. All major UK supermarkets are “highly likely” to source from Almeria and Huelva, according to the report.
“Considering their substantial buying power, supermarkets have enormous untapped potential to improve conditions for workers,” said the report.
Outside human rights abuses, berry farms in Huelva are notoriously one of the key causes of the slow collapse of the Donana National Park, a unique ecosystem for wildlife and a UN World Heritage Site.
According to the WWF, more than 1,000 water-intensive farms are illegally tapping into aquifers, slowly sucking the important wetlands dry.
The conservative government of Andalusia is in the process of legalizing 1,900 hectares (4,695 acres) of illegal farmland in the area.
This year, the European Commission expressed “deep concern” for the proposal and warned Spain of the environmental and legal consequences of the move.