In  my inbox today was a report about forced labor in Argentina blueberry fields. From the story on Fresh Fruit Portal.

     Argentine police have detained five men following a slave labor bust on a blueberry farm in the Buenos Aires province, website reported.  

The story reported 95 workers, including 11 minors, were discovered in inhumane conditions in the investigation of a San Andrés de Giles property and nearby blueberry exporter Baldones SA.

Investigators said the company that owns the property “deceived workers and coerced them with armed personnel”.

“They were found in inhumane conditions in an overcrowded shed, being all natives of the Misiones province,” the report said.

Baldones SA itself is involved with stakeholder community interrupcion* Fair Trade, and according to the group’s website received a ‘fair trade premium’ of ARS27,164 (US$6,349) for its products in 2009.

TK: Disheartening that a company receiving fair trade premium was apparently involved. For a broader perspective on this issue, check out the 2011 State Department Trafficking in Persons report here. From the report, about Argentina:

From the summary on Argentina:

Bolivians, Paraguayans, and Peruvians, as well as Argentine citizens from poorer northern provinces, are subjected to forced labor in sweatshops, and on farms. Officials reported there could be some labor trafficking victims exploited as street vendors or in forced begging in the capital. During the reporting period, the Argentine government identified a significant number of Argentine and Bolivian labor trafficking victims in rural areas.

TK: The State Department report also looked in the mirror, saying this about the U.S.:

The United States is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to forced labor, debt bondage, document servitude, and sex trafficking. Trafficking occurs for commercial sexual exploitation in street prostitution, massage parlors, and brothels, and for labor in domestic service, agriculture, manufacturing, janitorial services, hotel services, hospitality industries, construction, health and elder care, and strip club dancing.

Vulnerabilities are increasingly found in visa programs for legally documented students and temporary workers who typically fill labor needs in the hospitality, landscaping, construction, food service, and agricultural industries. There are allegations of domestic workers, foreign nationals on A-3 and G-5 visas, subjected to forced labor by foreign diplomatic or consular personnel posted to the United States. Combined federal and state human trafficking information indicates more sex trafficking than labor trafficking investigations and prosecutions, but law enforcement identified a comparatively higher number of labor trafficking victims as such cases uncovered recently have involved more victims. U.S. citizen victims, both adults and children, are predominantly found in sex trafficking; U.S. citizen child victims are often runaways, troubled, and homeless youth. Foreign victims are more often found in labor trafficking than sex trafficking. In 2010, the number of female foreign victims of labor trafficking served through victim services programs increased compared with 2009. The top countries of origin for foreign victims in FY 2010 were Thailand, India, Mexico, Philippines, Haiti, Honduras, El Salvador, and the Dominican Republic.

TK: If you are looking for a country with a completely spotless record when it comes to human trafficking, I don't think you will find it in the State Department report. I didn't, at least. These labor abuses, both here and abroad, serve to add yet another layer of responsibility to fresh produce buyers. Whether they want to or not, retailers must make sound judgments about the worker welfare efforts undertaken by suppliers.

Check out our fresh trade with Argentina at this link:  USDA trade data: Argentina trade 

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