Farm Workers’ Global Struggle for Rights on the Job

Agriculture employs nearly half of the world’s workforce. Low-paying and seasonal, it also is one of the three most hazardous sectors for workers (along with construction and mining), according to the International Labor Organization.

Agriculture workers are often denied decent wages. This is especially true for women, who, despite their predominance in the sector (50 percent to 70 percent of informal agriculture workers are women), are paid up to 50 percent less than their male co-workers for doing the same job. The precariousness of this work is compounded by informal employment arrangements or agreements with labor brokers, violence and harassment on the job and the unpredictability of the seasons when cash crops are planted and harvested.

Despite the hardships, agricultural workers—cacao harvesters in the Dominican Republic, vegetable farmers in South Africa and Moroccan vineyard and olive grove laborers in Meknes—are joining with unions and worker associations to improve their workplaces and win rights on the job.

A South Africa farm worker, a member of the Food and Allied Workers Union (FAWU), clears brush on a farm near Krugersdorp. Credit: Solidarity Center/Jemal Countess

Vilda López, with her daughter, Celestina, is among Peruvian plantation workers represented by two unions, both Solidarity Center allies. Credit: Solidarity Center/Oscar Durand

Tomas Reyes cuts cacao fruit in the Los Chepitos organic tree farm of Villa Altagracia. Cacao workers are members of Solidarity Center union ally Movimiento Campesino Dominicano (MCD). Solidarity Center /Ricardo Rojas.

Agriculture workers in Meknes, Morocco, head to work. Credit: Solidarity Center/Hind Cherrouk

Some 168 million children are forced to work around the world, such a this girl picking scallions in Mexico. When adults are not paid a living wage, children often work to help support the family. Credit: US State Department

Sorbor S. Tarnue, 17, attends school at the Firestone rubber plantation because her parents' union, FAWUL, a Solidarity Center ally, negotiated a reduction in the high daily production quota of latex. Parents had been forced to bring their children to work to meet the high quotas.

Palm oil workers at Grupo Romero's Grupo Palmas company live and work on the plantation with their families. The Solidarity Center works with their union to provide training and education for worker support on the job. Credit: Solidarity Center/Oscar Durand

Each year in Uzbekistan, teachers and health care workers are among those forced to work for weeks picking cotton during the annual harvest. Credit: AHRU Cotton Campaign

Some 1,000 agricultural workers on five large farms in Morocco’s fertile Meknes region recently won their first collective bargaining agreement. Workers now receive bonuses if their work exceeds the norm and are provided with safety equipment and social benefits. Solidarity Center ally Confédération Démocratique du Travail signed the pact with the agro-industry employer Les Domaines Brahim Zniber in January. Credit: Solidarity Center/Hind Cherrouk

Rafael Do–e Vi–a grafts cacao trees in the Los Chepitos organic tree farm of Villa Altagracia, Dominican Republic. Credit: Solidarity Center/Ricardo Rojas

Workers of Palma del Espino arrive at Fray Martin camp, in San Martin, Peru, at the end of a work day. Credit: Solidarity Center/Oscar Durante

Food and Allied Workers Union (FAWU) members plant cabbage seedlings on a farm in Rustenburg, South Africa. Credit: Solidarity Center/Jemal Countess

Using new techniques she learned from Solidarity Center training, including public speaking and one-on-one-contact to encourage self-confidence and participation, Violeta, a farm worker in Peru, leads workshops to empower women farm workers. Credit: Solidarity Center/Samantha Tate

South Africa cabbage planters. Credit: Solidarity Center/Jemal Countess