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Nuestra Voz (Our Voice): Strengthening Workers’ Rights in Spain’s Agricultural S

The provinces of Almería and Huelva, located in southern Spain, play a vital role for European retailers and food suppliers as sourcing areas for fruit and vegetables. Supermarkets in the UK, France, Germany, Switzerland and other European countries

The provinces of Almería and Huelva, located in southern Spain, play a vital role for European retailers and food suppliers as sourcing areas for fruit and vegetables. Supermarkets in the UK, France, Germany, Switzerland and other European countries are heavily reliant on the region for fresh produce such as peppers, tomatoes and berries.

Even prior to COVID-19, the demand for labour in the berry sector exceeded the available workforce in Spain. Foreign migrant workers from Bulgaria, Romania, Morocco and sub-Saharan Africa often migrate to work on these farms.

Documented abuses

Issues related to the working and living conditions of the workers who harvest these fruits and vegetables have been extensively documented by the Spanish media  and international organizations over the past few years. Media reports have consistently exposed the abuse of workers’ rights on many farms in these regions, including the lack of contracts, deceptive working conditions, exploitative wages, and deficient living conditions.

In late March of this year, Ethical Consumer published a comprehensive report  on the working conditions in Almería and Huelva. Workers report instances of farm managers demanding sexual favours in exchange for employment, confiscation of passports and identity documents, threats against unionised workers and penalties imposed for taking necessary bathroom breaks. The report also identifies other common abuses, including unsafe working conditions, sub-minimum wage payments, excessive overtime and inhumane treatment.

Amongst other recommendations in the report, the authors strongly recommend as part of a requirement for “Longer Term Change” the implementation of what it describes as the gold standard of “worker-driven social responsibility mechanisms.” These mechanisms should include grievance procedures and educational initiatives to ensure that labour rights are upheld.

“Nuestra Voz” Helpline

In mid-March 2022, LRQA (formerly ELEVATE Ltd) launched the worker-centric helpline “Nuestra Voz” (Our Voice) in Southern Spain, built with the best practice generated over a decade developing and operating global grievance mechanisms in line with the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. The helpline is accessible to farm workers through a toll-free line, WhatsApp, and Facebook Messenger and operates in Spanish, Arabic, Bulgarian and Romanian. ELEVATE provides on-farm training for workers and distributes promotional materials to promote the helpline including cards, stickers, posters and animated videos that specifically address the agricultural context and challenges in the region.

Building upon the launch of Nuestra Voz in 2022, LRQA (formerly ELEVATE Ltd) is now expanding the scope of the helpline beyond Almería and Huelva to cover all agricultural supply chains across Spain and migration corridors for foreign migrant workers including France, Morocco and Eastern Europe.

We invite European supermarkets and retailers to embrace this opportunity and subscribe to ELEVATE’s helpline while urging their fruit and vegetable suppliers to understand, resolve and be accountable for any negative labour and human rights impacts they cause, contribute to or are linked to throughout their entire operations, including their supply chains. As highlighted by Lidl Stiftung & Co. KG, a user of the Nuestra Voz Helpline, “Access to an effective grievance mechanism for employees in global supply chains is an essential part of corporate due diligence, in order to uncover human rights risks and potential rights”.

Your obligations

Under the French law on the corporate duty of vigilance (Loi de Vigilance) and the German Supply Chain Due Diligence Act (Lieferkettensorgfaltsgesetz), which came into force in 2017 and 2023, respectively, companies that fall within scope are required to identify and mitigate human rights and environmental risks and violations within their supply chains. Furthermore, the Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD) and the imminent Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence Directive (CS3D) from the European Parliament focus on setting mandatory requirements for corporate due diligence.

As a result, the implementation of effective grievance mechanisms is of paramount importance to early risk identification, prevention, and remediation of human rights and environmental negative impacts. Evidence of the effective use of grievance mechanisms is also becoming a barometer for investors – an avenue to gauge companies’ commitment towards workers and supply chain partners. Benchmarks such as the Corporate Human Rights Benchmark (CHRB), KnowTheChain (KTC), and Ranking Digital Rights (RDR) feature grievance mechanisms and partnership with trade union organisations as a key differentiation when ranking companies on their human rights performance.

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