Last month, Mexican authorities rescued 200 Tarahumara men, women and children from an agricultural work camp in northwestern Mexico where they were held against their will and subjected to inhuman working and living conditions.
Federal legislators then voted to push the country’s attorney general and human rights commission to conduct thorough investigations into this case and to fine those responsible for the violations, as well as to create policies to prevent these types of abuses in the future.
On March 16 Secretary of Labor and Social Oversight Alfonso Navarrete announced that authorities had rescued the 200 Tarahumara people from two work sites belonging to the El Cerezo Rural Production Society Limited in the southern part of Baja California.
“More than 200 Tarahumara indigenous people were tricked and transported 560 miles away from their communities into shameful, illegal conditions for miserable salaries,” Navarrete said.
“They were found to be housed…under unhealthy conditions, in tiny shacks put together with sticks, black plastic bags, belts, sacks and cardboard amidst puddles of mud and garbage, with completely contaminated bathrooms and little access to water. There were found approximately 15 children, from infants to adolescents of less than 14 years old,” he added.
Navarrete explained that the Labor Ministry launched the investigation after receiving complaints of exploitation, threats from bosses and living in inhuman conditions by men who had fled the labor camps. The Ministry sent inspectors to the El Cerezo sites who then found 113 violations of labor laws including: unsafe and unhealthy conditions in the workplace; lack of bathrooms and drinkable water; lack of adequate eating areas, and lack of protective gear for work. Along with these violations the inspectors noted 13 minors working in the facility and 167 workers who were not registered for Social Security and consequently would not receive those benefits.
Navarette referred the case to both the Federal Attorney General’s office and the National Commission on Human Rights.
One week after the announcement federal legislators urged both federal and local officials to sanction the companies involved to the full extent of the law and to provide more inspections and oversight to prevent the human rights violations against the mostly indigenous agricultural workers.
The Coordinator of the National Action Party, Ricardo Anaya, condemned the violations on March 25 in a press event. “We reject it, but above all we urge the authorities to, with complete firmness, to punish those shameless companies that are exploiting these workers and let the chips fall where they may, there must be severe sanctions to serve as an example,” Anaya stated.
In the meantime, officials from the state of Chihuahua, home region of the Tarahumara, have offered to provide formal employment to the workers as well as child-care for their families.