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“Ghost” Farm Workers

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Touch the Soil News #431

Sarah Horton, a University of Colorado Professor of Anthropology, just finished a 10-year study on migrant labor in California. The work was published in the July issue of the Anthropology of Work Review. Horton’s work focused on migrant workers in California’s Central Valley – the fruit and vegetable basket of America.

So what is a ghost worker? It is an illegal immigrant who is working using someone else’s legal documentation, often supplied by and encouraged by the farm owner/employer. Farm workers call this practice, which renders them invisible to state and federal governments, “working as a ghost.”

Horton’s work revealed that unscrupulous employers who provide legal identities for the use of illegal immigrants opens the door to a whole host of illegal and immoral practices that include:

  1. Violation of child labor laws where children under 18 work more than 8 hours a day
  2. Avoiding paying over time
  3. Working for less than minimum wage
  4. Subject to employer violence and intimidation
  5. Sexual harassment
  6. Indentured servitude and slavery
  7. Child labor exploitation
  8. Infringements on pay

Farm workers labor in a field harvesting broccoli in Southern California. Produce buyers pushing prices down at the top and farm owners struggling to survive at the bottom – creates an environment ripe for human exploitation. Add to this a financial environment characterized by a scarcity of circulating dollars and the problem grows bigger.

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Illegal migrants working under “borrowed” identities do not exist in the legal world and thus are targets for exploitation. Horton’s work did not quantify how prevalent the practice of employers providing substitute identities to workers and using that practice to exploit people is. The travesty is, of course, that it is happening in the United States.

Farm labor exploitation is not a problem of just America; it is worldwide wherever there is a financial incentive/pressure to do so.

Following is a video exploring the issues of farm workers:

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