Seasonal Moroccan fruit pickers exploited, sexually assaulted in Spain

Seasonal Moroccan fruit pickers exploited, sexually assaulted in Spain
Some 16,000 Moroccan migrants arrived in Spain this year to pick fruit, and some say they were exploited and even sexually assaulted.
3 min read
27 June, 2018
Moroccan woman protesting working conditions in Spain [Getty]
Five Moroccan migrant women who went to Spain as agricultural workers filed an official complaint that they were subject to exploitation, including punishing work schedules, and in one case, attempted rape by a manager. 

The claims have prompted fears that such exploitation may be more common across the industry in Spain's south, where 16,000 Moroccan women arrived earlier this year for the February-June picking season. 

Spain is Europe's top fruit and vegetable exporter and many Moroccans find seasonal work picking strawberries. 

The Moroccan workers are all mothers - having children is a condition to get the job, as it guarantees they will return home at the end of the picking season. 

They arrived in Spain to earn higher wages, but some say that their working conditions and pay differed than what was agreed to on paper.

"What is in the contract has nothing to do with reality," said the 31-year-old Layla, using a pseudonym, who spoke to AFP.

The agency spoke with nine other women, all of whom worked in Andalusia for the Donana 1998 company, which categorically denied the allegations and accused the women of creating a scandal to try to stay in Spain. 

Adiba, 35, said she signed a contract offering a salary of 39 to 40 euros (£35) for each day of work. But she told AFP that they were paid for how much they picked - 75 cents for every five-kilogramme crate.

If they weren't able to pick strawberries "very, very quickly", she said they would be banned from working for several days. 

Adiba also said she was charged for accomodation, despite her contract saying housing would be provided free of charge. 

Charifa, 23, told AFP no one defended them "as women" and burst out crying as she described how her manager offered her 50 euros in exchange for sex.

Another woman, Fadila, 29, said her boss gave her a ride in his car but forcefully kissed her and touched her inappropriately. 

A petition denying the women's accusations and defending the company has been signed by 131 other Moroccan seasonal workers.

Donana 1998 itself has refused to answer questions, with a spokesman saying "everything is in line with regulations".

But prosecutors in Huelva in Spain's Andalusia region said at least 12 complaints have been filed by eight Moroccan and four Spanish women who were picking fruit in three different farms.

A spokesperson for prosecutors in Huelva said several managers have been charged with sexual abuse, but did not say how many.

Belen Lujan, a lawyer for some of the workers, says dozens more women would like to press charges but "are scared to do so" or have already returned to Morocco.

Rights groups say the seasonal Moroccan workers find themselves at the mercy of employers.

They are in "situations of huge vulnerability due to their pressing need to keep their families afloat", said the Cepaim Foundation, which focuses on migrant integration.  

Cepaim visited dozens of strawberry farms and found confiscated passports and women only paid salaries on the day of return to Morocco. 

On 13 June, the regional government of Andalusia announced it was drafting a "zero tolerance" measure for the industry to come into force next year. 

These include giving the seasonal workers leaflets in their language that lay out their rights.

Earlier this month, some 300 Moroccan women protested the precarious working conditions in Huelva, Andalusia. 

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