Friday, 22 February 2019

America's farm work's dirty secret

Agriculture has long been US industry's most profitable sector – at the expense of a virtually unindentured immigrant workforce. Most farm work in America is performed by immigrants, most of whom are undocumented and therefore exploitable. The big agribusinesses hire these immigrants need an unfettered supply of cheap foreign labor, because they cannot find Americans willing to do these jobs.

These jobs entail hours of backbreaking work in terrible and often dangerous conditions, subsistence wages with little or no time off, and none of the protections or perks that most of us enjoy – it's hard to see why anyone with other options would subject themselves to a life that is barely a step above slavery.

Agribusinesses find the guest-worker program's pitiful protections such a burden that they have mounted a relentless campaign to undermine them, and for the most part, work around them anyway; they hire undocumented workers instead. At least 51% of the workers hired by agribusinesses are unauthorized immigrants.

The agribusiness sector has gotten away with exploitative and illegal practices with ridiculous threats that should the supply of cheap labor dry up in the US, they will outsource our food production to China. Even if they have to pay workers higher wages, somehow there will be fewer people willing to do the jobs. The other scare tactic is that if they have to increase their expenditure on labor, those costs will have to be passed on to the American consumer. However there was no evidence of a labor shortage in the agricultural sector, so far. And agriculture has had a surplus of available workers for decades.

Agricultural industry has recorded a nearly 80% average annual increase in profits – more than all other major industries. These record profits are due to the fact that real wages for farm workers have remained stagnant over past few decades. A 2011 report by the Economic Policy Institute found that an increase in farm workers' wages of 40% would result in an annual rise in household spending by the American consumer of just $16.

Consumers have long since showed a willingness to pay more for organic meat or chicken because they don't like the idea of animal cruelty. To be called organic, the animal must be fed organic food (grown with no pesticides), receive no antibiotics and be given access to the outdoors.