Spain, June 3, 2020 – The international organization Women’s Link Worldwide, with the support of 7 other organizations,* has sent an urgent communication to multiple United Nations (UN) bodies detailing human rights violations committed against Moroccan women and other migrants performing seasonal work in the strawberry and other berry fields of Huelva, Spain.
In the communication, Women’s Link and the other organizations warn of the risks posed by the COVID-19 pandemic to the rights of these Moroccan women and the rest of the migrant worker population, who were already in a situation of heightened vulnerability due to the labor exploitation and multiple forms of violence they have faced for years. These workers may be exposed to new forms of exploitation resulting from the labor shortage caused by the closing of borders, as well as an increase in impunity in cases of violence, particularly sexual violence, due to greater difficulties in accessing healthcare and the justice system.
Furthermore, workplace conditions (no physical distancing, gloves, or masks) and housing conditions (shipping containers lacking ventilation, potable water, and onsite toilets) at some farms may lead to greater risk of COVID-19 infection. This may also affect migrants living in informal settlements in the province lacking access to basic services such as water and sewage, according to local organizations.
The organization has asked the UN bodies to issue a joint statement to the competent authorities of Spain and Morocco and the businesses involved demanding protection for the health and rights of migrant workers in Huelva. These measures should include a gender perspective, since strawberry-picking is a highly feminized industry. They should also be sustainable over the long term, not just during the COVID-19 crisis.
“The COVID-19 pandemic, like all crises, has a specific impact on women, exacerbating existing gender inequalities. This impact is particularly serious for women in situations of vulnerability, such as migrant workers in the strawberry industry, whose families rely on their income, and who face discriminatory and abusive work conditions,” explains Women’s Link Worldwide attorney Aintzane Márquez.
A history of rights violations
Along with the communication, the organization submitted a report prepared by Andaira, Taraceas Cooperativa, and other experts detailing the most frequent human rights violations committed against seasonal workers in the 2019 season.
The report describes rights violations documented during the worker selection process in Morocco and during the performance of work, as well as specific violations related to housing conditions, sexual violence, access to justice, access to healthcare, and sexual and reproductive rights.
Based on this report and the accounts of ally organizations working in Huelva, Women’s Link maintains that the situation has not improved substantially since 2018, when measures were announced to respond to multiple reports of labor exploitation and sexual violence against migrant workers. Most of these measures still place the onus of reporting abuses on the workers, who are often unaware of their rights or may fear losing their jobs. Furthermore, Spain has yet to take steps to ensure that businesses respect workers’ rights, opting instead to delegate oversight duties to strawberry industry managers and owners, rather than having government agencies monitor their compliance.
“The COVID-19 crisis offers an opportunity to overhaul the in-country hiring system. Returning to ‘normal’ must also mean shifting to a production model where migrant workers’ rights, rather than financial interests, are front and center,” adds Márquez.
For more information:
- * Listing of supporting organizations: Abogadas Sociedad Cooperativa Andaluza; Colectiva de Trabajadores Africanos; Asociación Solidaridad, Igualdad y Sostenibilidad de Trabajo Integral Cuenca Minera (Asisti); Jornaleras en Lucha; Mujeres 24H; Observatori de Drets Humans i Empreses a la Meditteránia (OCDHE); Instituto Interamericano de Responsabilidad social y derechos humanos (IIRESODH).
- ** UN bodies the communication was submitted to: https://bit.ly/2zG5wUh
- Executive summary of the report: https://bit.ly/2M7pqtS
- Women’s Link represents four seasonal workers who reported labor exploitation and sexual harassment in 2018: https://bit.ly/3ca2gxF
- Video of the stories of the women represented by Women’s Link: https://youtu.be/gJhSRJDxijs
- Photography (c) Laura Martínez Valero / Women's Link Worldwide: https://bit.ly/3dbI6oj
Laura Martínez Valero
+34 699 984 800