Was Your Food Harvested By Slaves?

Nathan Wild

A modern-day slave operation that had been active for years on Georgia onion farms was recently brought down. It may have been one of the largest-ever human trafficking and visa fraud investigations in US history.

“Victims include over one hundred laborers smuggled from Mexico and Central America into “brutal” and “inhumane” working conditions. Under the threat of gun violence, some were allegedly forced to dig for onions with their bare hands, earning only 20 cents for each bucket harvested. At least two people died on the job.

When not out in the fields, workers were detained in work camps surrounded by electric fencing, or held in cramped living quarters, including dirty trailers with raw sewage leaks. There was little to no access to food or safe drinking water.” (1)

These modern-day slave trades in our agricultural system are more common than you think. Tomatoes from Florida and China, chocolate from Africa, shrimp from Thailand and now onions from Georgia all have had cases of slave labour. When a food system gets too big it becomes almost impossible to monitor and regulate. And when there is no oversight, bad actors will take advantage of desperate people whose only goal is to create a better life for their families.

In the article by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution Solimar Mercado-Spencer, a senior staff attorney at the Farmworker Rights Division of the Georgia Legal Services Program, a nonprofit law firm that represents low-income farmworkers in Georgia said “All you see is, you know, your onions at Kroger. You can go buy them. You don’t know where they came from. But this is happening and nobody notices it. And these are essential workers that have been keeping us fed through the pandemic.”

If you bought food that was directly linked to slavery, how would that make you feel? We have a bad habit in our culture of not asking or caring about where food comes from. And when we don’t ask we allow modern-day slavery to exist. The only way to stop horrific cases like this from continuing is by shrinking our food systems, shortening our supply chains, removing middlemen and as much as possible buying local from farmers who you know and trust.