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About the Project

Recent news articles highlighted incidents of forced labor, debt peonage, and poor conditions of some workers employed on Mexican farms that grow produce for US consumers. NGO Polaris suggested that several hundred thousand workers in Mexico could be in forced labor situations, including in agriculture.

There are no top-down statistical data to confirm or refute these bottom-up reports. As a result, we are undertaking a study to examine production systems and labor markets to develop a reliable statistical database on wages and working conditions for hired farm workers in Mexico’s export-oriented agriculture.

We will analyze production and employment systems in five commodities in four areas: tomatoes, bell peppers, and cucumbers in Sinaloa and the Bajio (6 sites), avocados in Michoacán (1 site), and berries in Jalisco and the Bajio (2 sites). In each site, we will interview 300 farm workers, stratifying our sample to reflect the relative size of employers, so that if the 10 largest employers account for half of production, we will do 150 or half of our interviews with these 10 employers. We will also conduct focus groups with employers, workers, government officials, and NGOs in each study site.

Most of the worker surveys and focus groups will be done in winter 2019; the project is scheduled to conclude by the end of 2019.

This collaborative project is led by the Wilson Center’s Mexico Institute and supported by the Walmart Foundation, with research support from the Center for Research and Higher Studies in Social Anthropology (CIESAS) and Migration Dialogue. We aim to work with stakeholders to understand production and marketing systems in order to identify the features of the farm labor market that can lead to better and worse conditions for farm workers. Our farm worker survey will provide data on farm worker migration patterns and wages and working conditions, and the focus groups will help us to understand the survey data.

The first phase of the study will develop production and marketing profiles of selected Mexican commodities, including tomatoes, asparagus, cucumbers, squash, bell peppers, avocados, and berries, that highlight the role of labor in production. The analysis will include methods of recruiting workers, wages and working conditions, and packing and marketing channels. The second phase of the study includes the interviews and focus groups with stakeholders.

The data and analysis will establish a clear understanding of labor in Mexico’s export-oriented produce industry and generate recommendations to improve transparency and the risk of worker abuse. The project began in November 2017 and will conclude by November 2019. For further information, please contact Agustin Escobar or Philip Martin.