This Alternet article highlights an important report from the Southern Poverty Law Center on the exploitation of immigrant women in the U.S. food industry. Of particular interest to reproductive peace activists is Section 3, entitled "Sexual Violence: A Constant Menace." The SPLC found that:
- In a recent study of 150 women of Mexican descent working in the fields in California’s Central Valley, 80% said they had experienced sexual harassment. That compares to roughly half of all women in the U.S. workforce who say they have experienced at least one incident.
- While investigating the sexual harassment of California farmworker women in the mid-1990s, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission found that “hundreds, if not thousands, of women had to have sex with supervisors to get or keep jobs and/or put up with a constant barrage of grabbing and touching and propositions for sex by supervisors.”
- A 1989 article in Florida indicates that sexual harassment against farmworker women was so pervasive that women referred to the fields as the “green motel.” Similarly, the EEOC reports that women in California refer to the fields as “fil de calzon,” or the fields of panties, because sexual harassment is so widespread.
- Due to the many obstacles that confront farmworker women — including fear, shame, lack of information about their rights, lack of available resources to help them, poverty, cultural and/or social pressures, language access and, for some, their status as undocumented immigrants — few farmworker women ever come forward to seek justice for the sexual harassment and assault that they have suffered.
- In interviews for this report, virtually all women reported that sexual violence in the workplace is a serious problem.
Poverty and undocumented status leave these women vulnerable to sexual abuse that they can neither refuse nor report without facing harsh reprisals.
The report also found that farmworkers are exposed to such high doses of pesticides that their health — and, if they are preganant, the health of their unborn children — is at serious risk. Within a seven-week period in late 2004, three children with severe birth defects were born to women who worked in the tomato fields of a single grower.
What can you do? The Alternet article recommends several steps that individuals can take:
- Get as much of your food as possible from your own garden or local farmer's markets.
- Buy organic food so that the workers who pick your food are not exposed to pesticides.
- Support workers' rights organizations like the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and the Center for Farmworker Families.
But as both Alternet and the SPLC point out, individual actions aren't going to be enough. We need public policy that protects workers from abuse regardless of their immigration status. SPLC has specific recommendations, including bill numbers in some cases. If you live in the United States, please help stop the abuse of the women who help supply your food.