Friday, May 9, 2008

"Child Labor in Mexico Puts Food on US Tables"

The lead story in The Arizona Republic today adds another chapter to the sorry tale of NAFTA's effects on the Mexican people.

"About 300,000 youngsters. . . work illegally in Mexico's fields, the U.N. Children's Fund says, making child labor a major link in the chain that increasingly supplies American dinner tables."
Mexican law prohibits child labor.
"Nevertheless, children under 15 make up 20 percent of Mexico's migrant farmworkers, the Mexican Labor Secretariat says. Less than 10 percent of these children attend school and 42 percent suffer from some form of malnutrition, government studies show.

"They persist in the fields despite harsh criticism from international groups, rules imposed by U.S. distributors and increasingly strident warnings from the Mexican government."

Here's why:
"The 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement is partly to blame for the child-labor phenomenon. . . .

"The trade pact has opened up the U.S. market to Mexican farmers, encouraging large-scale packing and exporting operations in Mexico's northern and central states. . . .

"Small-scale farmers, mostly Indians from southern Mexico, have found it hard to compete. Instead, they began migrating north each harvest season to work the big fields.

"The children of these families went from working on the family farm to working for hire.

". . . In most cases, the children do not appear on the farms' payrolls.

". . . But because adult workers earn bonuses for picket more than their daily quota, parents with 'helpers' bring home more money. Farms save money beause they do not have to pay social security for youngsters."

It goes unmentioned that US agribusiness operates large farms as well as "packing and exporting" operations both in Mexico and on this side of the border, in Texas's Rio Grande Valley, for instance, and in Arizona's onion fields. It is not unheard of for the same crews of undocumented workers to work in both operations, as was attested at this week's House Education and Labor Committee hearing on immigrant labor shortfalls. [Hearing on "Do Federal Programs Ensure U.S. Workers Are Recruited First Before Employers Hire From Abroad?" Tuesday, May 6, 2008]

Also not reported in the discussion of parents' recruiting their children as 'helpers' is the corollary that adult workers wouldn't need to impress their children if their own labor provided a living wage.

For them in Mexico, as here, it doesn't.

This puts a whole new inflection on "grow your own."

Bon app├ętit.