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Home / News and events / News / The industrial agriculture model for soft fruits in Huelva and Alentejo: exploitation of workers, environmental damage and expulsion of peasant farmers

The industrial agriculture model for soft fruits in Huelva and Alentejo: exploitation of workers, environmental damage and expulsion of peasant farmers

12 May 2022

An international delegation of the European Coordination Via Campesina and other members of LVC have travelled during the first week of April to Huelva and Alentejo to see the conditions of the workers.

An international delegation of the European Coordination Via Campesina (ECVC) and other members of La Via Campesina have travelled during the first week of April to Huelva (Andalusia) and Alentejo (Portugal) to see the conditions of the workers on the ground, made up mostly of migrants working in strawberry production and other red fruits in those regions.   In Huelva the meeting was hosted by the Sindicato de Obreros del Campo SOC-SAT de Andalucía. Visits were made to different work areas, companies and settlements in the Condado and Almonte regions, where an event was organised by the local union, in the strawberry-growing area of Palos, Moguer and Lucena, and in the east in Lepe and Cartaya. Meetings were also held with social organisations such as, Ecologists in Action, Unitary Union, Huelva Welcomes and the Onuba Sea, WWF, as well as with the Territorial Delegate for Employment, the Territorial Delegate for Agriculture and the Mayoress of Almonte.   In Portugal, the delegation was hosted by the National Confederation of Agriculture (CNA) and the SINTAB workers' union. They visited traditional olive groves and ultra-intensive farms that are occupying more and more land in the region. In the Odemira area, visits were made to red fruit agro-industrial companies and meetings were organised with migrant workers in their accommodation and in public places. Meetings were also held with the Vice-President of the Municipal Chamber of Serpa and his Chief of Staff and with the representative of the Solidaridad Imigrante Association (SOLIM).   In addition to the trade unions mentioned above (SOC-SAT, CNA and SITAB), the meeting was attended by representatives of the following organisations: the Landworkers Alliance from the United Kingdom, Uniterre from Switzerland, the National Federation of the Agricultural Sector (FNSA) from Morocco, the Coordination of Agricultural and Livestock Organisations (COAG) from Spain and the Galician Union Labrego Galego-Comisións Labregas (SLG-CCLL) from Galicia.   The ECVC Working Group on Migration and Rural Workers organised this initiative or  with the aim of analysing the agricultural context of production in these regions, consolidating the cooperation between SOC-SAT and FNSA in the trade union work with Moroccan women day labourers in Huelva, as well as going deeper into the reality of the large multinational companies in the red fruit sector.   From the Commercial Pressure Axis of the Working Group, which seeks to make visible the social, labour and environmental damage of agribusiness, offering information and raising consumer awareness, it was possible to verify the repetition of the same model of labour exploitation that seeks to reduce wage costs and social expenses, on the basis of the extreme vulnerability of workers, through hiring at source, the presence of temporary employment agencies and mafia intermediaries, institutional recruitment, legal discrimination against foreigners, housing segregation, and permanent corporate control, among other elements.   In Huelva, among others, several farms of the controversial red fruit multinational Surexport, in Almonte and Lepe, were visited. The difficulties faced by a large part of the one hundred thousand agricultural workers in finding housing  , has forced thousands of people to live in more than forty shantytowns scattered in the forests of the region, such as in Lucena and Lepe. Likewise, a delegation from ECVC was able to confirm, , the inequality of housing conditions between Moroccan seasonal women recruited at origin and European women, mostly from Romania .   "Huelva perfectly represents the model of intensive industrial agriculture. There is intensive use of chemical inputs, intensive use and waste of water and energy, non-compliance with working conditions with wages below the minimum wage and working conditions to suit the bosses, which generates situations of precariousness and insecurity for most of the people who work in the fields of agribusiness in Huelva, mostly migrants, that is to say. a clear example of racism", describes the LVC delegation that went to Huelva.   In Portugal, the delegation visited the fields of the company Sudoberry (Surexport's company name in Portugal), in São Teotónio, where workers went on strike and held a rally in February, to demand an improvement in their working conditions. Currently, they work more than 12 hours a day, suffer from serious irregularities in the payment of wages and work under strong pressure from the managers. Last year, there was a huge scandal in this region when hundreds of workers who were not guaranteed adequate measures against Covid were infected by .   For its part, the Trade Union Coordination Axis, which seeks to consolidate trade union collaboration between grassroots trade union and peasant organisations, managed to coordinate the local team of SOC-SAT trade unionists with the FNSA delegation. This delegation consists of two trade unionists from the women's area and the international officer, who were able to observe the reality in situ, in the companies and homes, as well as to meet with dozens of Moroccan women workers who are stable and have contracts at origin. In this sense, an ambitious and necessary joint work plan was designed in the areas of training, exchange of information and material, as well as monitoring of women workers in both countries and united actions of protest, denunciation and institutional advocacy.   A detailed report of the visit, the meetings and the proposals to be developed in the areas of commercial pressure and trade union coordination in the agro-industrial production of soft fruits will be made in the next month, in order to make the situation visible and to implement the actions and activities agreed upon by ECVC.   European Coordination Via Campesina in Europe and La Via Campesina defend a production model based on small and medium sized peasant agriculture with the reduction of inputs, the protection of biodiversity, climate change mitigation and respect for the rhythms of the land. It also seeks to claim decent working conditions for people who produce food and is committed to the creation of employment in rural areas, by placing limits on the mechanisation and digitalisation of agricultural activity.   These premises have a place in Food Sovereignty, i.e. the right of peoples to produce their food within their own territory, with based on an agro-ecological model that cares for the health of people and the planet.   If you wish to contact the working group or join the work as a member of ECVC, you can contact the following people:   Federico Pacheco (ECVC- CC and SOC- SAT)- + 34 690 65 10 46 Laurent Vonwiller (Uniterre)- +41 78 877 01 79 Nina Gordillo (SOC-SAT) - +34 615 65 24 04 Conchi Mogo (SLG-CCLL)- +34 69 56 54 70  

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