The Los Angeles Times ran a front-page article on Sunday that provides a sobering view of life for some farm laborers in Mexico. It is the first of a four-part series. The piece was the result of in-depth investigation of the conditions under which Mexican food imports to the U.S. are produced.

Despite company policies indicating they don’t source from suppliers engaged in unfair labor practices, the report reveals that many U.S. retailers, including Safeway, Whole Foods and Wal-Mart are among those buying food produced by some of the suppliers in violation of their policies…and selling it to American consumers. National restaurant chains, including Subway, were also named. The Los Angeles Unified School District has also used one of the suppliers named in the article to source produce for its school lunch program.

The LA Times team found that:

  • “Many farm laborers are essentially trapped for months at a time in rat-infested camps, often without beds and sometimes without functioning toilets or a reliable water supply.
  • Some camp bosses illegally withhold wages to prevent workers from leaving during peak harvest periods.
  • Laborers often go deep in debt paying inflated prices for necessities at company stores. Some are reduced to scavenging for food when their credit is cut off. It’s common for laborers to head home penniless at the end of a harvest.
  • Those who seek to escape their debts and miserable living conditions have to contend with guards, barbed-wire fences and sometimes threats of violence from camp supervisors.
  • Major U.S. companies have done little to enforce social responsibility guidelines that call for basic worker protections such as clean housing and fair pay practices.”

And this:

“The contrast between the treatment of produce and of people is stark.”

A must read piece, with images evocative of Dorothea Lange’s Depression-era photographic essays.