In Peru, Workers Toil to Bring Greens to Holiday Tables

In Ica, 200 miles south of Lima, Peru, tens of thousands of workers harvest and process asparagus, artichokes, and other fresh produce we associate with the arrival of spring. As we head into Easter and Passover, please take the time to think about the men and women in regions like Ica who make the greens on our plates possible.

Did you know:

In a nutritionally challenged area, where the caloric intake just meets minimum standards, most of the workers do not even have a chance to try the products they grow. Much of Peru’s agricultural bounty is exported.

Seventy percent of the workers are women, the majority of reproductive age. These working mothers are regularly exposed to pesticides, fertilizers, and other toxic chemicals.

In the last year, a group of 10 young women were sprayed with pesticides while working. To avoid having to report this occurrence to authorities, the employer had the women treated at a private facility.

The majority of farms do not provide protective equipment, such as boots and gloves. To protect themselves, workers must jerry-rig their own sun visors from T-shirts. Typically, they wear flip-flops in the fields.

Employers consider bathroom breaks for field workers a privilege, not a right. As a result, workers often use makeshift latrines located close to areas where produce is planted and harvested.

Some female workers, encouraged to work continuously without bathroom breaks, are required to wear diapers so as not to cut into “productive work hours.”

It is not uncommon for workers to toil for eight straight hours with no lunch or rest break. When field workers do have time for lunch, they often sit under the same hot sun that makes the coast so good for growing.

Peruvian labor law allows for workers in the agricultural sector to work more than eight hours a day with no overtime, as long as the cumulative work week does not exceed 40 hours.

When agricultural workers form a union, employers have almost absolute control to fire the leaders, sending a message to the other workers that unions are not allowed in their workplace.

On paper, the right to form and join unions is protected, but short-term contracts and an antiquated, 20-year-old law make it very easy for employers to keep their workplaces union free and their workers voiceless.

The work week for most agricultural workers is six days, and most get no paid vacation.

During holidays, such as Thursday and Friday of Easter week, Peruvian employers are required to pay double for those who continue to work. Employers in Ica and other agricultural areas largely refuse to respect this obligation.

When asked what their hopes and dreams are, a group of 10 workers from the plantation Euro SA who were fired for forming a union gave the following responses:

  • “A salary that covers my needs.”
  • “That the employer pays us what we are due for the years we have worked with the company.”
  • “To retire with what I am owed.”
  • “Fair treatment at work.”

When asked their fears, they replied:

  • “When my supervisor screams at me.”
  • “That I won’t get to retire.”