LEPE – The Council of Europe (CoE) has raised concerns about Spain’s lack of action in combating labour exploitation in the Andalucian strawberry fields. Migrant workers often work countless hours for little to no pay and live in slums.
According to the latest report from the Group of Experts on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings (GRETA) of the Council of Europe Spain has implemented important legislative measures in the fight against human trafficking. However, there is still much work to be done in terms of monitoring trafficking for labour exploitation and providing victims with access to justice.
GRETA’s report highlights specific concerns about the situation in “informal settlements,” or pure slums, in agricultural areas such as the strawberry fields in Andalucia. The lack of action by the authorities regarding the poor living conditions of the workers increases the risk of human trafficking. Despite this, the issue remains officially unregistered, warns the report.
Vulnerabilities of migrant workers
GRETA is “pleased” with the approval of the National Strategic Plan against Trafficking in Human Beings and the Exploitation of People in January 2022, as well as the National Action Plan against Forced Labour a month earlier. However, they express concerns about the “insufficient work” in preventing and effectively detecting labour exploitation, responding to the vulnerabilities of migrant workers, and punishing perpetrators, according to the report on Spain. The document points out the “low number” of investigations and prosecutions of human traffickers in relation to labour exploitation.
The experts from GRETA, who travelled to Spain between 4 and 8 July 2022, express particular concern about strawberry cultivation in Huelva and the makeshift settlements where hundreds of workers are packed together under extremely poor conditions. NGOs warn that migrants are particularly vulnerable to labour exploitation and even human trafficking. They often work far more hours than allowed under Spanish labour law and are paid well below the minimum wage or sometimes not at all.
Strangely and troublingly, the group of experts was unable to identify any victims of human trafficking among the people living in these informal settlements. According to GRETA, this points to shortcomings in the situation in Spain, such as the inability of labour inspectors to access the settlements.
One possible solution would be to ensure that labour inspectors have “adequate resources” to conduct inspections and to “revise the legal framework to prevent gaps” in the assessment of cases. Furthermore, special attention should be paid to “the risks of human trafficking in the agricultural sector,” with an “improvement in the detection of potential victims in this sector,” states GRETA as one of its recommendations.
However, labour exploitation is not limited to agriculture in Huelva. Numerous greenhouses in the Andalucian province of Almería and the Murcia region also cultivate vegetables and fruits for all of Europe with the help of undocumented immigrants, without any government oversight.