Workers in Spain’s Strawberry Fields Speak Out on Abuse

11:33 PM Aida Alami 0 Comments

ALMONTE, Spain — A little over a year ago, a young mother left her children in the care of her husband in Morocco and went to work on a strawberry farm near the city of Almonte, on Spain’s southwestern coast.

Pregnant with her third child and needing money, she was led to believe she could make a few thousand euros for several months’ work — about a year’s earnings in Morocco. Instead, she is now stranded in Spain, awaiting trial after joining nine other women from the same farm, Doñaña 1998 d’Almonte, who have filed lawsuits stemming from events there, including accusations of sexual harassment and assault, rape, human trafficking and several labor violations.

Like other women interviewed for this article, the young mother asked that she be identified only by her initials, L.H., for fear of how spouses, family members and others would react when the article is republished in Arabic, as happens with most Times articles on Morocco. The husbands of some of the women, including L.H., have already filed for divorce.

The women said they often had little choice but to endure abuse, and experts agree.

“They are put in a situation where they are deprived of resources, and their sexuality becomes one way for them to survive,” said Emmanuelle Hellio, a sociologist who has chronicled conditions on the farms. “Sexism and racism fabricate situations in which they cannot complain and power relations make things particularly difficult to denounce.”


L.H. said her boss started sexually harassing her soon after her arrival. He pressured her to have sex, promising her a better life and working conditions.

When she resisted “he started forcing me to work harder,” she said, trying to soothe her baby girl, who was born in Spain. “The other girls would help me when it would get too hard for me on the field.”

Now, she lives with the other women in a location she asked to keep confidential, awaiting trial.
“I feel depressed and I am scared to look for work,” she says.

Strawberries are called red gold in Spain, the largest exporter of the fruit in Europe, where they are the basis of a $650 million industry. Andalusia, where the women worked, produces 80 percent of Spain’s strawberries.

Under a bilateral agreement signed in 2001, thousands of Moroccan women labor from April to June under sprawling plastic greenhouses to cultivate and harvest the fruit. The agreement specifies that the seasonal workers must come from the countryside, where poverty and unemployment are rampant, and must be mothers, so they want to return home, which most do.

It was seen as a win-win deal: an earning opportunity for the poor Moroccans, which gave Spanish farmers much-needed low-cost labor.

For years, academic researchers and activists have complained about the working conditions at the isolated farms, but the authorities in Spain and Morocco have taken little or no action, officials with local labor unions said.

But over a year ago, the 10 women decided to speak up, knowing they risked losing everything, including the respect and support of their conservative families. They are now paying that price, and would have been crushed long ago if not for the support of unions, activists and online fund-raising.


You can read the rest of the story here.


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