A four-part series in the LA Times explores the corrupt labor conditions in Mexico's biggest farms, where the produce, destined for American grocers like Walmart and Whole Foods, is treated with infinitely more care than the workers, who are subject to illegal, inhumane treatment, including indentured servitude.
The workers routinely have their meager wages withheld, are housed in barbed-wired compounds without adequate water, food, or sanitation, and have to buy overpriced food from a high-priced company store, ensuring that they are in a permanent state of indebtedness to their employers, who won't let them leave until they pay off their debts, which can't be done.
The Times's coverage is available in Spanish and English, and includes videos and photos that hammer home the point.
Many farm laborers are essentially trapped for months at a time in rat-infested camps, often without beds and sometimes without functioning toilets or a reliable water supply.
Some camp bosses illegally withhold wages to prevent workers from leaving during peak harvest periods.
Laborers often go deep in debt paying inflated prices for necessities at company stores. Some are reduced to scavenging for food when their credit is cut off. It's common for laborers to head home penniless at the end of a harvest.
Those who seek to escape their debts and miserable living conditions have to contend with guards, barbed-wire fences and sometimes threats of violence from camp supervisors.
Major U.S. companies have done little to enforce social responsibility guidelines that call for basic worker protections such as clean housing and fair pay practices.
Hardship on Mexico's farms, a bounty for U.S. tables [Richard Marosi/LA Times]
(Image: Don Bartletti)