Morocan migrant workers in Spain continue to suffer from sexual assault, labor exploitation, and unsafe working conditions.
Rabat – The United Nations High Commissioner of Human Rights (OHCHR) is calling on the Spanish government and companies to improve the working conditions of Moroccans in Spain, particularly vulnerable workers on strawberry plantations in Huelva.
“The protection of seasonal migrant workers in Huelva has been completely neglected during the COVID-19 pandemic. While the rest of Spain was under lockdown to stem the spread of the virus, thousands of migrant labourers considered ‘essential workers’ were put to work without even basic hygiene measures being taken, without protective materials and sharing tools,” said Olivier De Schutter, UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights.
“The relevant authorities were alerted but remained silent. And when workers fell sick, their access to healthcare was not guaranteed.”
The UN’s statement comes after eight NGOs urged the international organization to investigate the human rights violations suffered by Moroccan women working on farms in Huelva.
For years, the Spanish government has turned a blind eye toward plantation owners’ illegal labor practices.
Under a seasonal worker agreement between Morocco and Spain, at least 3,000 women are employed annually for the strawberry harvest. For years, the workers’ employers have faced criticism for forcing their workers to live in overcrowded housing settlements with inadequate access to basic services.
Many employers pay workers below minimum wage or withhold their wages, and require them to work beyond Spain’s legal work hour limits.
“Governments tend to blame companies for violations of workers’ rights, and companies in turn tend to see the enforcement of labor rights as the duty of public authorities, not theirs,” De Schutter said.
“The complete dependence on seasonal migrant workers in the strawberry business of Huelva routinely leads to situations that amount to forced labor, in complete disregard both of international human rights standards and of domestic legislation.”
Workers say they were treated like “slaves” and “animals,” facing sexual assault
While COVID-19 has presented some of the most recent concerns for the migrant community, female workers on Spain’s strawberry fields have made repeated allegations of sexual assault.
A number of women have reported being sexually assaulted and coerced into having sex. In May, a Moroccan woman was hospitalized after her employer lured her into the fields and attacked her.
Despite the media’s widespread circulation of women’s accounts, little has been done to improve the migrant workers’ situations or hold plantation owners accountable for their crimes. Trials against men who have been accused of rape, trafficking, and assault have yet to see a verdict.
The UN expert is pressing the governments of Spain and Morocco, as well as the companies involved in the alleged abuse, to clarify the numerous issues presented by the women and cooperating NGOs.