Sunday, February 20, 2011

Migration and Coffee in Mexico and Central America

To Die a Little


Reyno Bartolo Hernández died of heatstroke in the Arizona desert near Yuma on May 22, 2001. He wasn't the only Mexican farmer who lost his life that day trying to cross the border. Thirteen of his countrymen and -women perished along with him in one more of the migratory tragedies of modern history.

Reyno and his companions were small coffee growers from the township of Atzalan, Veracruz. Atzalan is a formerly rich region but in recent years it has been impoverished by senseless policies. Until just a few years ago, few of its residents migrated to the United States. Then the price of coffee fell, and so did the price of citrus fruits and cattle. To make matters worse, bananas were attacked by fruit flies and the coffee crop was overcome by a devastating plant disease.

So little by little, the inhabitants of Atzalan set out along the route blazoned by small farmers from the states of Michoacan, Zacatecas, and Jalisco decades earlier. The coffee farmers began to look for a way to cross the 3,107-kilometer border that separated them from the United States, hoping to get to "the other side." In desperation, they hooked up with the infamous polleros, the smugglers who led them to their deaths.

Thomas Navarrete, long-time adviser to the cooperative that many Atzalan growers belong to, notes that the crisis in the region is dramatic and tragic. In many communities, around 70% of the residents have left, most to the United States. Navarrete points out that before people didn't need to leave their communities, at least not like now. "Even Celso Rodríguez, the president of the cooperative, left to work in Arizona," he says.

The border has become a magnet for these coffee growers. If they get over--and many do--they earn $4-5 an hour, compared to the less than $4 a day they earn at home, if they're lucky. In the coffee communities, the success stories from the other side are impressive. Migrants come back and remodel their houses; they pour a new roof, replace wooden planks with concrete blocks. Everyone can see and envy the changes.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Apple's 2011 Supplier Report Reveals Child Workers, Bribes, Unsafe Conditions

After ten suicides at Chinese manufacturer Foxconn last year, Apple has published a review of supplier responsibility practices, which reported child labor violations, toxic conditions, and other violations of their code of conduct.

Apple sent COO Tim Cook to Foxconn, where a team of suicide prevention specialists had been dispatched to deal with the issues there. "The team commended Foxconn for taking quick action on several fronts simultaneously, including hiring a large number of psychological counselors, establishing a 24-hour care center, and even attaching large nets to the factory buildings to prevent impulsive suicides," the report said, going on to conclude that "Foxconn's response had definitely saved lives."

Apple's response to the suicides at Foxconn has garnered significant media attention over the past year, but Apple did not cut ties with the factory. According to their recent report, they did cut ties with a number of other factories violating their code, including one company that tried to bribe Apple officials to overlook violations, another that falsified payroll records, and one with over 90 underage workers.

Apple continues to work with several other facilities employing child labor, who have promised to work with Apple to prevent future underage workers. For those facilities found to be employing workers under 16, China's legal labor age, Apple is forcing the supplier to pay for educational expenses and lost wages for 6 months or until the worker turns 16, whichever is longer.

"During our investigation, we also discovered that the vocational school involved in hiring the
underage workers had falsified student IDs and threatened retaliation against students who revealed their ages during our audits," the report went on to say. "We reported the school to appropriate authorities in the Chinese government."

Apple also discovered a facility that endangered their workers by exposing them to n-hexane, a chemical that reportedly left some workers unable to walk. "We required the facility to discontinue use of n-hexane, to fix the factory's ventilation systems," Apple said of the discovery.

Additionally, Apple found that less than a third of reviewed factories complied with the company's standards for working hours, which are a maximum of 60 hours a week. The company is working to improve management and oversight over these issues. Read the full report here.

The Huffington Post  Amy Lee  First Posted: 02/15/11 12:52 PM Updated: 02/15/11 04:03 PM