October 5, 2021
Migrants make up the majority of the labor force in numerous sectors of both the regional economy as well as the national economies of industrialized countries. Agriculture and food production employ a third of the world’s working people – more than any other industry – and women migrants make up an increasingly large proportion of agricultural laborers. Grassroots worker collectives and civil society organizations have been demanding respect for these women’s rights, and a key component of this advocacy work is exchanging best practices and sharing them with hiring companies and government authorities.
During the panel Hablan las mujeres: experiencias y buenas prácticas para fortalecer el ejercicio de derechos de las mujeres trabajadoras migrantes agrícolas (Women Speak Up: Women migrant agricultural workers share their experiences and strategies for exercising their rights), organized by Fundación Avina as part of the VI Foro Regional de las Naciones Unidas sobre las Empresas y los Derechos Humanos para América Latina y el Caribe (the 6th Regional United Nations Forum on Business and Human Rights for Latin America and the Caribbean), women migrant workers from across the region spoke about the realities in their communities of origin, the working conditions in their places of destination, and migrant worker recruitment in Central America, Mexico, the United States, and Canada.
The panel was moderated by respected journalist Ana María Islas Pérez and was part of the Periplo project, which brings together organizations and collectives working on the issue of the agri-food industry’s responsibility to respect the human and labor rights of migrant workers.
Florinda Chicop, a member of Asociación Civil Guatemaltecos Unidos por Nuestros Derechos (AGUND), spoke about the precarious conditions that Guatemalan indigenous women face in both their communities of origin and places of destination. She described labor migration as a necessity given the lack of job opportunities for women.
She was joined by Abelina Ramírez Ruiz, the first woman to hold the position of general secretary of Sindicato Independiente Nacional Democrático de Jornaleros Agrícolas (SINDJA), an agricultural day laborer union in San Quintín, Mexico. She emphasized how important it is for women to participate in organizing efforts and decision-making spaces, along with the need to prevent discrimination and ensure decent wages and social security benefits for all people working in the fields and their families.
Adding to these perspectives, Rocío Ramírez Domínguez, a migrant agricultural worker from Guerrero, Mexico and member of Alianza Campo Justo, expressed to need to improve working conditions for women migrant workers in Mexico, particularly their access to education and information about their labor rights. She stressed that women who demand that their rights be respected live in fear that they will be fired in retaliation. Sharing from her personal experience, she pointed out that women agricultural workers’ rights are systemically violated in other ways beyond those that had already been mentioned.
One example is agricultural piece work, where work is measured by a production goal, not by hours of work performed. Gender discrimination occurs even where it is assumed to be irrelevant: in general, women workers are paid less at the end of the workday, assigned tasks based on their physical characteristics, and given jobs that pay less, such as cooking or cleaning.
To close, Carolyn Fairman, the Chief Operating Officer of Cierto Global, underlined the importance of having “clean” recruitment processes, open and constructive communication between recruitment agencies and employers, and prioritizing the needs of women workers. She highlighted responsible recruitment models that are designed to prevent fraud, ensure decent working conditions, and require that employers be committed to upholding the labor rights of all working people.