'We pick your food': migrant workers speak out from Spain's 'Plastic Sea'

It is the tip of any other day for Hassan, a migrant employee from Morocco who has spent the previous 12 hours below a sweltering past due summer season solar harvesting greens in one of the most huge greenhouses of Almería, southern Spain.

The greens he has dug from the crimson grime are destined for dinner plates far and wide Europe. UK supermarkets together with Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda, Lidl and Aldi all supply fruit and greens from Almería. The tens of hundreds of migrant staff operating within the province are necessary to the Spanish economic system and pan-Eu meals provide chains. Right through the pandemic, they’ve held very important employee standing, labouring within the fields whilst tens of millions internationally sheltered within.

But this night, Hassan will go back to the squalor and garbage piles of El Barranquete, one of the most poorest of 92 casual employee slums that experience sprung up across the huge farms of Almería and which at the moment are house to an estimated 7,000-10,000 other folks.

Right here, in the course of Spain’s Mar del Plastico (Plastic Sea), the 31,000 hectares (76,600 acres) of farms and greenhouses within the area of Andalucía referred to as “Europe’s lawn”, a lot of El Barranquete’s population don’t have electrical energy, working water or sanitation.

El Barranquete shantytown, Nijar (Almería) inside the ‘Plastic Sea’.

Houses constructed from dumped rubbish in El Barranquete shantytown

Hassan’s area, like all of the others in El Barranquete, is made from no matter he may just to find on garbage dumps or the aspect of the street; items of plastic foraged from the greenhouses, flaps of cardboard and previous hosing tied round lumps of picket. Underneath Spain’s blazing solar, the temperature can succeed in 50C – at night time the plastic sheeting releases poisonous carcinogenic fumes whilst he sleeps.

When he first arrived in Spain, Hassan was once surprised via how the employees have been handled at the farms. Like different staff in El Barranquete, Hassan says he earns handiest about €five (£four.50) an hour, smartly below the prison minimal salary. “The operating prerequisites are horrible,” he says. “Infrequently we paintings from sunup to sunset in excessive warmth, with just a 30-minute spoil in the entire day.”

Now, as Almería faces a wave of Covid-19 infections, staff say they’ve been left totally unprotected. “We pick out your meals,” says Hassan. “However our well being doesn’t subject to somebody.”

Moroccan women and children next to one of the few water sources in Don Domingo shantytown

Don Domingo shantytown in Nijar

Water the farm workers at El Nazareno settlement drink, kept in toxic containers

In August, the Observer interviewed greater than 45 migrants hired as farm staff in Almería. A joint provide chain investigation via Moral Shopper mag has connected many of those staff to the availability chains of UK supermarkets together with Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda, Lidl and Aldi.

All claimed to be going through systemic labour exploitation earlier than and all the way through the pandemic reminiscent of non-payment of wages and being stored on unlawful brief contracts. Many described being compelled to paintings in a tradition of worry and intimidation. A few of those that complained about prerequisites stated that they had been sacked or blacklisted.

Employees hired via Spanish meals corporations connected to UK supermarkets additionally claimed that all the way through the pandemic they’ve been denied get right of entry to to good enough private protecting apparatus (PPE) that below Spanish regulation they’re entitled to as very important staff. Many stated they weren’t given sufficient face mask, gloves or hand sanitiser and feature been not able to socially distance at paintings.

La Molineta shantytown

One guy hired at a large meals corporate supplying the United Kingdom says that he has handiest been given two face mask in six months.

In keeping with the investigation, the British Retail Consortium – contributors of which come with Sainsbury’s, Asda, Lidl and Aldi – launched a observation calling at the Spanish govt to release an inquiry.

Commenting at the Observer’s findings, Olivier De Schutter, the United International locations particular rapporteur on excessive poverty, says the placement going through migrant staff in southern Spain is a human tragedy.

Migrant workers in El Nazareno shantytown

La Molineta shantytown

Don Domingo shantytown

“The pandemic has exacerbated the unacceptable prerequisites going through migrant staff and the Spanish govt will have to urgently act. However two-thirds of all fruit and greens fed on throughout Europe and the United Kingdom come from those greenhouses and all of the corporations and outlets up those provide chains have a accountability to those staff as smartly,” he says.

Spain is experiencing the best numbers of recent Covid-19 infections in Europe, with the province of Almería recording greater than 100 new circumstances an afternoon.

In spite of the native govt in Almería claiming that the virus has no longer reached the plastic settlements, there were more than one outbreaks on farms around the province and within the cortijos, the dilapidated housing blocks close to the farms during which staff are living.

As Covid-19 infections upward push, clinical charities reminiscent of as Médicos del Mundo are supplying mask, gloves and temperature tests within the settlements in scenes extra harking back to a crisis zone than one of the most richest international locations on the planet.

Workers lining up for hand sanitiser in El Nazareno shantytown

El Nazareno shantytown

El Nazareno shantytown

Don Domingo shantytown

“Other people need to offer protection to themselves, however they can’t”, says Almudena Puertas from the NGO Cáritas. “They’re right here as a result of there may be paintings and we want them.”

Up to now month, the native govt in Andalucía has allotted €1.1m to create higher well being and protection prerequisites, however critics say they’ve but to look any vital enhancements.

El Barranquete

“I don’t perceive why those other folks don’t seem to be being rehoused in higher lodging. Do we need to look ahead to them to get Covid as a substitute of attempting to find a a lot more dignified position, with good enough hygienic prerequisites?” says, Diego Crespo, a Ahead Andalucía celebration MP.

Hassan is aware of that his paintings and dwelling prerequisites make him prone to changing into inflamed with Covid-19. When requested whether or not he is provided with PPE at paintings, Hassan laughs. “Gloves and face mask within the greenhouse? Temperature tests?” he says. “They don’t provide you with the rest.”

Like most of the other folks dwelling within the settlements, he say he’s extra petrified of no longer with the ability to paintings than they of changing into unwell. If he can’t ship cash house, his kids don’t consume.

One teams of staff say that they misplaced their jobs after checking out sure for Covid-19 and quarantining at house. Muhammad, a farm employee from Morocco, stated that after he and others had recovered and returned to paintings, a few of them have been advised there was once no paintings for them.

“After I shriveled Covid-19, I’d already spent two years operating for this corporate with out papers and two years on a brief contract, but if I got here again they stated there may be not anything for me right here,” he says. He says he and the opposite staff who didn’t get their jobs again additionally didn’t obtain the unwell pay they have been entitled to as very important staff.

The Soc-Sat union, which represents agricultural staff throughout Almería, says the failure to supply farm staff with elementary PPE speaks to the tradition of impunity that surrounds the mistreatment of Spain’s migrant group of workers.

“Round 80% of fruit corporations in Almería are breaking the regulation,” says José García Cuevas, a Soc-Sat union chief. The union says that around the area, popular fraud is being perpetrated at the farm staff. “Other people will paintings 25 days however their employers will handiest rely 10,” he says. “Or while you take a look at the payslips, it says €58 an afternoon, which is minimal salary however that’s no longer what the employee is receiving.” He says that in line with figures from the Basic Union of Employees, staff lose out on as much as €50m of wages once a year.

For many years, the exploitation and abuse of migrant staff in Spain has been extensively condemned via UN officers and human rights campaigners, however to little impact.

Soc-Sat says that during 2019 it handled greater than 1,000 lawsuits from migrant staff about exploitation and dealing prerequisites. This 12 months it additionally says it has helped staff document prison lawsuits in opposition to meals corporations in Almería for breaching labour regulations and no longer offering good enough PPE.

Inside some of the homes in La Nave de la Molineta shantytown

Inside some of the homes in La Nave de la Molineta shantytown

Inside some of the homes in La Nave de la Molineta shantytown

“If, below standard prerequisites, well being and protection rules don’t seem to be adopted, you’ll be able to consider what’s going down within the present state of affairs with a deadly disease,” says García Cuevas.

In its observation, the British Retail Consortium (BRC) says its contributors have 0 tolerance for labour exploitation: “Many grocery contributors have funded and supported the Spain Moral Business Provider Boards … We name at the Spanish govt to release an investigation into labour prerequisites within the Almería area to lend a hand our contributors stamp out any exploitative practices.”

In a separate observation, Tesco says it was once acutely aware of the problems surrounding migrant staff in Southern Spain and that the corporate labored intently with growers, providers and Spanish moral industry boards to make sure just right requirements.

The Andalucían Ministry for Labour, Coaching and Self-Employment in Andalucía stated that it had delivered coaching for companies on how to offer protection to staff in opposition to Covid-19. In a observation it says, “You can’t criminalise a complete sector this is topic to a wide variety of controls via the labour, well being and different government and that will have to additionally abide via strict rules in regards to the coverage of staff’ rights and prevention and occupational well being.”

A panoramic view of the Plastic Sea in El Ejido

In two weeks, the greenhouses of Almería might be at their busiest because the prime season for tomatoes, peppers and salad starts. Ali, a farm employee who has been in Spain for greater than 15 years, doesn’t be expecting his state of affairs to give a boost to.

“When you bitch, they’re going to say: ‘When you don’t need to paintings right here then pass house,’” he says. “Each employee right here has a circle of relatives, a spouse and youngsters, however the one factor that issues is that we paintings to get the greens to Germany or the United Kingdom. It’s like they’ve forgotten we also are human beings.”

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