Eat Fresh, Die Hard – Subway, Wal-Mart, Whole Foods and the Plight of the Mexican Worker

America Magazine

Jim McDermott

CNS photo/Karen Callaway, Catholic New World
CNS photo/Karen Callaway, Catholic New World

In northern Mexico, many farm workers—over a hundred thousand of them children—live in overcrowded, rat-infested conditions, with little food and sometimes no potable water. So the L.A. Times reported yesterday, in the first of a four part series on produce pickers in Mexico.

Though they are supposed to be paid weekly, in many places once workers arrive on the job—often from very poor regions to the South—they’re told they won’t see any of their pay until they complete their work. Some never do get paid. And those that do often earn very little, $8 to $12/week.

At the same time, according to the Times report, the produce they pick is being sent to major American companies—Wal-Mart, Subway; Safeway, Whole Foods, Olive Garden. And despite frequent promises of oversight, the Times found that for the most part the American companies are not exercising oversight, mostly because no one here is demanding that they do.

As reported in America and elsewhere, Mexico is already in deep crisis, the country riven by a decade of violence and corruption that has boiled to a head with the recent discovery of 43 college students murdered at the hands of a local government (and national soldiers). The Mexican bishops have spoken out, saying “The bishops of Mexico say: enough is enough! We don’t want any more blood. We don’t want any more death. We don’t want any more disappearances.” Calling the state of the country signs of “a true national crisis,” the bishops have stated that the violence, along with growing inequality and lack of truth by public figures, “make it clear that we have turned away from God.”

Meanwhile 50 percent of the tomatoes consumed in the United States are being picked by these men, women and children. It’s a shocking report, and one that needs to be closely read.