"In a lengthy and stinging ruling, judge details near-feudal conditions endured by immigrant workers harvesting produce:
From Saturday's Globe and Mail
April 19, 2008 at 1:02 PM EDT
In a stinging 801-page ruling on an employment insurance scam, a federal Tax Court judge says widespread exploitation of Indo-Canadian berry pickers in fields outside Vancouver is reminiscent of scenes from John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath.
"When a 65-year-old grandmother leaves her village in India, travels nearly two days to Vancouver and is hired within a week by a labour contractor who transports her - at dawn and back at night - in a crowded van for up to eight hours a day so she can earn eight hours pay at minimum wage - or less if paid on piece rate - something is radically wrong with certain aspects of the federal family reunification program and also the berry and vegetable industry in British Columbia," Dwayne Rowe, a Tax Court of Canada judge, stated in a ruling issued this week.
There is an old saying that "if it seems too good to be true, it is too good to be true." And I'd like to say that the conditions described in this article are an aberration, but in fact they are pretty standard wherever "cheap" food is produced.
For a long time, the prices we have been paying for our food have been too good to be true. They have been, quite literally, a form of theft. Theft from the workers who grow, harvest and process our food. Theft from the farmers who can't make a living competing against what is essentially slave labour. Theft from the earth itself when soil is depleted far faster than it can be re-built, and the accumulation of billions of years worth of carbon is pumped into the atmosphere so we can eat out of season strawberries for a couple of decades. Theft from our children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren, who will struggle with a poorer world, greatly diminished and scarred by our thoughtlessness and greed.
I think it is urgent that we rethink and rebuild our connections to the earth, to our food, and to each other. I tend to want to use the carrot rather than the stick; that's kind of the purpose of this blog - to encourage people to discover that buying, cooking and eating local foods are neither difficult nor unpleasant things to do. On the contrary! They bring a variety of pleasures in the form of a deeper connection to the rhythms of the seasons and the communities around us; a strengthening of local economies - which will certainly include our own; an ordering of the important things in life; and, oh yeah, some pretty damn fine grub. It just won't be cheap. That's good. The world can't afford "cheap" anymore. It's too expensive.
I hope that Judge Rowe's call for criminal charges to be laid against those who have apparently counselled people to make false statements under oath, created false documents, committed forgery and falsified employment records will be heeded. The efforts of individuals to seek a just and humane food system will not bear fruit without effective social and legal backing.