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Mexican Farm Workers Must Endure Hellish Conditions to Grow Your Tomatoes

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An investigative report from the L.A. Times exposes horrifying conditions at Mexican labor camps where workers are sometimes held captive.


The Mexican mega-farms that supply produce to many of America's biggest restaurant chains including Subway and Olive Garden — as well as major retailers like Wal-Mart and Whole Foods — are subjecting farm workers to atrocious conditions.

In the first half of a four-part investigative series that continues today in the Los Angeles Times, reporter Richard Marosi exposes horrific treatment of workers at the giant Mexican farm labor camps, most of whom are "indigenous people from Mexico's poorest regions" that work six days a week for about $8 a day.

Marosi cites (and offers photographic evidence of) workers' dismal living conditions, which include rat infestations, sleeping on concrete floors, and sometimes, no running water or working toilets. He details how laborers are forced to purchase overpriced food from company stores, often causing them "to head home penniless at the end of a harvest." Workers who want to leave the farm camps are faced with "guards, barbed-wire fences and sometimes threats of violence from camp supervisors."

The LAT report points out that while "retailers increasingly promote the idea that the food they sell not only is tasty and healthful but was produced without exploiting workers," the standards that they tout are simply not enforced, as the corporations "often [rely] on Mexican growers to monitor themselves" rather than employing independent auditors as they do in some other countries.

Even people who eschew places like Wal-Mart in favor of farmers markets may not be worry-free: Marosi tells NPR, "A lot of the farmers market is sourced from regional wholesalers or regional produce markets, and much of that comes from Mexico."