Picking strawberries in Mexico for U.S. tables leaves workers asking for more

Fri May 15, 2015 10:35am EDT
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By Edgard Garrido and Lizbeth Diaz

SAN QUINTIN, Mexico (Reuters) - Huddled around a single flickering candle in a tiny wood and cardboard shack on scrubland in Mexico's northwest, laborer Genaro Perfecto and his family prepared to bed down for the night on a bare earth floor.

His 3-year-old daughter asked for an extra blanket to ward off the cold, but they had run out - a measure of their hard-scrabble life spent harvesting fruit bound for U.S. dining tables.

Since March, thousands of day laborers have blocked roads, staged marches and held meetings with lawmakers to protest the grind of picking strawberries, raspberries and blackberries in the Baja California peninsula for what they say is as little as $1 an hour.

Perfecto is part of a growing underclass whose frustration over pay and conditions is pressuring companies that supply U.S. markets to make improvements.

At least one company told Reuters it would reexamine its treatment of workers.

Kevin Murphy, CEO of U.S. fruit company Driscoll's, said his company was reevaluating standards in the wake of the fruit picker protests, and was going to audit living conditions.

"We're going to go back and look at them again and reevaluate them and put in some improvements," Murphy said.

Companies operating in the area say they pay workers fair wages and provide them with adequate healthcare coverage. Local government officials, meanwhile, say recent protests over wages by fruit pickers were politically motivated.   Continued...

Fruit pickers harvest strawberries at a farm in San Quintin in Baja California state, Mexico April 1, 2015. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido