EUROPE’S agriculture industry is exploiting the at least 2.4 million migrants who harvest Europe’s fruits and vegetables, according to a new report by the University of Comillas and Oxfam researchers.

The report, Essential but invisible and exploited reveals systemic violation of migrant workers’ rights under European Union labour and human rights law spanning nine EU countries. According to the latest statistics, one in four workers in Europe’s agricultural sector are migrants, but in reality there might be many more.

“We want to expose the underbelly of Europe’s agricultural industry, which has at its core exploitation and breaches of European law”, said Nerea Basterra, Oxfam Intermón Head of Private Sector.

In the nine countries examined, with Finland being the exception, migrant workers are paid below the minimum wage with women typically receiving lower salaries. As a case in point: in the Spanish region of Huelva, half of the women interviewed reported earning less than their male counterparts, while in Italy, women migrant workers report earning up to 30 per cent less than men.

The report finds that instances of abuse, including sexual abuse, intimidation techniques and violence in response to strikes, were commonplace. Workers with temporary permits or irregular status face a greater risk of exploitation due to their precarious employment situation. For example, wild berry pickers from Thailand were reported to work up to 19 hours a day in Sweden.

Accommodation is frequently overcrowded, expensive, and isolated. Women workers have reported instances of being sexually blackmailed by accommodation supervisors. Some workers live in makeshift slums, which can lack running water, heating, and waste collection and where there is a risk of disease and fire – either accidental or arson attacks. Some workers are also homeless.

Accidents and injuries are frequent due to employers failing to give adequate training and protective equipment, particularly in Spain and Italy. There are documented cases of workers being poisoned, and one man died after not receiving water during a full day of work in 44-degree heat.

The EU recently approved new rules on supply chains for large companies. These rules will facilitate access to justice and compensation to survivors, as well as the obligation for agribusinesses and retailers to prevent and take responsibility for human rights violations.

“European leaders can no longer ignore the exploitation lurking in the agricultural industry and sneaking into every European’s shopping trolley. But there is hope in a new EU law on supply chains – it could end exploitation, if European countries use it right”, said Nerea Basterra.

* Read: Essential but Invisible and Exploited: A literature review of migrant workers’ experiences in European agriculture here.

* Source: Oxfam International