The True Cost of Salad
Less than a mile away from the hotels and bars of the Costa del Sol, journalist Felicity Lawrence went in search of salad - what she found was a 400 square Km greenhouse, human rights abuses and modern-day slavery.
Many of us have begun to question where our chicken or beef comes from, whether our coffee is Fairtrade and whether our fish was responsibly sourced. Asking these questions is very important and helps foster a deeper understanding of where our food comes from and who produces it but very few of us have ever questioned where our unseasonably delicious bag of salad comes from - why would we? After all a year round availability of salad produce has become so commonplace that we could almost be forgiven for forgetting that such foods rely on the warmth of a sun which is conspicuously absent from the sky during the British winter.
In order to meet our year-round appetite for salad the UK imports much of its produce from warmer climbs such as the colossal 'hothouses' of Almeria in southern Spain. However over the past few years as both consumer demand and food prices have increased so too has the need for a cheap labour force that can be switched on and off at a moments notice - and who better to supply this demand than migrant workers desperate for a job.
The problem with this is that those who are desperate for work are more easily exploited and with the spanish hothouse industry which grows and supplies salad vegetables worth an estimated €2 billion per year the Spanish and European authorities have decided to look the other way - a decision which has born very real and horrifying consequences.
During an investigation into the living and working conditions of migrants in the Spanish hothouses, Guardian journalist Felicity Lawrence discovered the true extent of migrant worker exploitation and how their plight is purposefully ignored by the wider community.
Image: Yann Arthus Bertrand (www.yannarthusbertrand.org)
The abuses witnessed were so bad that charities attempting to help the migrant workers claimed they met the UN's official definition of modern-day slavery. The investigation's findings included workers forced to live in make-shift houses made from wooden crates and plastic sheets with no access to running water or sanitation, the removal of workers papers so they could not return to their home countries or seek medical help, wages being withheld by employers, harassment from police authorities and enforced racial segregation. Workers were also found to be working in temperatures of over 40 degrees celsius with no access to drinking water. The situation has become so dire that the Red Cross has begun handing out free food to thousands of workers and Anti-Slavery International has called the evidence "deeply disturbing".
The situation is southern Spain is very real and extremely serious and what is of particular concern is the European Union's apparent willingness to allow humanrights abuses to take place on it's doorstep. The systematic abuse and exploitation of migrant workers is allowed to take place as long as we continue to allow our supermarkets, food industries and governments to silence their voices.
While any solution will not be quick or simple, we can all play a part in ensuring such a serious injustice in our food system is righted by being mindful of where our food comes from, asking our supermarkets and shops what they are doing to protect workers' rights, raising our concerns with members of parliament and uniting together to act as a voice for those who do not have one.
We strongly urge all WrinklyPepper visitors to share this information with others through both real world and online social networking and encourage you all to visit the Guardian website where you can watch Felicity Lawrence's report and find out more.