I saw a documentary the other day that was both fascinating and disturbing. I've given so much thought to the quality of what I eat, eating locally and seasonally – and avoiding processed foods. But it turns out there’s a significant aspect to what I eat that I hadn't considered.
Who is involved in getting your food from the field to your plate?
The documentary focused mainly on fruit and vegetable farms right here, in Australia. I’m always careful to make sure all of my produce is Australian and I’d naively assumed those involved in picking and packing would be protected and treated fairly. Apparently this is not the case.
Whilst the majority of the work force at these farms is lawful and “on the books”, many of them were reported to rely on cheap workers, who are often forced to work incredibly long hours, underpaid, and in some cases struggle to get paid at all. The farms go through 3rd party labour providers, which seems to be a way they can bury their heads in the sand, claiming they had no idea the workers were being mistreated. Many of the third party labour providers were reported to with-hold part of the minimum $21 hourly wage the workers had earnt, which is clearly illegal.
Significant numbers of the farm workers are in Australia on Working Holiday Visa’s –the exact visa I first came into the country on. This visa enables the holder to work for 12 months, but it is possible to extend it to two years on completion of qualifying farm work. It appears the promise of granting the valuable second year visa extensions allows a lot of the farms to manipulate the workers even further.
I was also amazed at the sheer volume and range of well-known companies and brands some of these farms were reported to be supplying. With salad, fruit and vegetables going to all of the major supermarkets (often packed as their own brand) as well as restaurants and fast food outlets, it seems almost impossible to have the confidence to buy produce that you can be certain is not from exploited workers.
Is there any way we can be certain the food we're eating was picked and packed ethically?