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Workers in Mexico’s Export Agriculture
August 26, 2019
About half of US fresh fruit and almost a third of US fresh vegetables are imported. Half of the fresh fruit imports and two-thirds of the fresh vegetable imports are from Mexico.
Mexican-born workers pick most fresh fruits and vegetables in Mexico and the US. Wages are lower in Mexico, typically $10 to $15 a day versus $10 to $15 an hour in the US. Working conditions are variable in both Mexico and the US. The Los Angeles Times in December 7-14, 2014 documented forced labor, debt peonage, and poor living conditions for some of the internal Mexican migrants employed on Mexican farms that grow fresh fruits and vegetables for US consumers.
Worker advocates suggest that poor conditions on Mexico’s export-oriented farms are the norm, so that Americans are consuming the products of child and forced labor when they buy Mexican-grown produce. Mexican growers and US buyers assert that labor law violations on Mexican export farms are the exception.
Interviews with 2,770 workers employed on Mexican farms that produce fruits and vegetables for Americans did not find widespread labor law violations. A major surprise was that over 90 percent of the workers who were interviewed on export farms said their employers enrolled them in IMSS, the Mexican social security system that provides health and child care and pension benefits to covered workers.
Only 48 percent of Mexican workers are covered by IMSS, meaning that low-skilled workers are more likely to be covered by IMSS if they are employed on an export farm rather than an informal workshop in urban areas.
The workers who were interviewed were an average 32 years old and had an average 7.2 years of schooling; a quarter spoke indigenous languages. Men were 54 percent of the workers interviewed.
Monthly wages averaged 6,800 pesos ($356) a month. Settled-out migrants earned four percent more than this average and temporary migrants earned one percent less. Fewer than five percent of workers earned less than the minimum wage of about 2,500 pesos a month based on four six-day weeks at 103 pesos a day.
Wages varied by sex, commodity, and state. Men earned 12 percent (berries) to 15 (vegetables) percent more than women who were employed in the same commodity. Average monthly wages were higher in berries, 7,200 pesos, than in vegetables, 6,400 pesos. Average monthly wages in Baja California of 10,120 pesos a month were higher than in Jalisco, 7,300 pesos and Sinaloa, 6,400 pesos.
About 45 percent of the workers interviewed used social networks of friends and relatives to find their jobs; 22 percent were recruited by contractors, and 24 percent searched for the job they were holding when interviewed on their own. The share of workers recruited via social networks was higher for berries, 54 percent, than for vegetables, 34 percent. The share of workers recruited by contractors in berries, 10 percent, was lower than the 36 percent of workers who were recruited by contractors in vegetables.
Almost 80 percent of workers signed employment contracts, including 85 percent in berries and 78 percent in vegetables. Only six of 2,770 workers paid fees to get their jobs, and six vegetable workers and 70 berry workers, five percent of all workers, reported debts to their employers.
Workers employed on Mexican export-oriented farms, Spring 2019
Source: Survey of 2,770 workers in Spring 2019