When you say Costa del Sol you think of drunk Brits, and the more romantic of us may think of olive farms and flamenco. Well, this is only partly true. What about hundreds of Green houses? And Africans?
Recently, I became aware of Norvara Media, a growing underground news channel that has a website, YouTube channel and bi weekly podcasts. They have been going for some time and are strong amongst the left in the UK.
I always used to be sceptical of such things, echo chambers and all that, I mean how good can an underground news station be?
I was browsing through their old videos when one called ´The Bitter Fruit of Andalucía´appeared. Watch it here.
This 3-and-a-half-minute video explores the exploited workers in the south of Spain´s agriculture industry. Filmed in 2017 it is here.
In the video it states that Andalucía provides over half of Europe’s fruit and vegetables. The mass green houses, that they are grown in, are visible from space. This is not a white picturesque Spanish village this is miles of green houses.
To function, these greenhouses use immigrant workers mainly from Africa. In the video it shows there are around 200 people living on this one site, but there are more sites throughout the south of Spain.
They have no access to clean water, often having to wash in contaminated water from the local reservoir. The toilets are 30cm deep holes. There is also improvised electricity which is a fire hazard.
There are children living there that cannot get to school as the bus will not stop there, despite them asking. They have limited or no access to local and social services.
The immigrants are not all illegal, some have papers that allow them to work. However, due to lack of good contracts they are unable to rent a flat, get access to health care and claim any form of benefits. Many do not have the right to work and feel scared to ask for help. They work for less than minimum wage, with no fixed hours, contract or break.
They work at temperatures over 40 degrees and the bosses pay no social security or taxes for them. Many must go around the green houses asking for work.
Due to this, the local farmers and companies take advantage of their situation. The workers say they are exploited and that they are being used as modern-day slaves in Europe.
Is it really that bad?
At first, I was unsure of this report. It only shows a limited part of the story and is only 3 minutes long. Yet, the scenes in it speak for themselves. There’s no denying it.
I went to visit a friend that lives in this area. On my way there I could not believe my eyes. Rows and rows of makeshift plastic greenhouses, like a thousand gazebos lined up on the side of a lush green hill. From a far they look like the white stone houses that you think of when you say Andalucía, yet here its miles of plastic.
On our drive in thought the mazes of plastic sheets and wooden frames we were met with a roadful of graffiti in Spanish saying that they need regulated work and real contracts. The struggle is here.
I spoke with people from there, local Spanish people who worked in the green houses. I was told that not everyone was an immigrant and that many Spanish people have worked there for many generations. The bosses pay social security and taxes.
I then saw a flyer attached to a lamppost outside the only hotel in the village. 60 euros for a days work, cash in hand, no questions asked.
So, from what I gather the majority of workers are employed legally. Pay taxes and aren’t highly exploited. Otherwise, if all workers were: then surely this is a mass human rights abuse?
Does anyone know how many live in make shift housing with terrible conditions to work and live in?
But, this does not change the fact of what I have seen both in the video and in person. There’s obviously something big going on. What is being done about it?
In the village around 100 workers lived. Almost all of them working in the green houses. The village was fifty percent white Spanish and the other half were immigrants from Africa.
I saw several abandoned bars and shops. The flats had seen better days, but several blocks appeared to be inhabited by people from Africa, the flats were decaying and covered outside by colourful mats and throws. The other street in the village was alive with people living in many of the houses. These appear to be mostly Spanish.
The other houses were holiday homes as it is right next to a deserted, beautiful beach, a sharp contrast to the ragged green houses right next to it.
That night we drove to have a drink in the next big village. We weaved in and out of the green houses like a child in a maze. As I was looking out of the car I was met with several people having BBQ. My guess was that they lived there in between the greenhouses themselves.
Having seen this, I will never complain about the hostels or hotels in the Costa del Sol, as less than a 30 minute drive away you can see rich Northern Europeans enjoying a mojito.
A different world is down the road from your yearly holiday, and its putting avocados and tomatoes in British supermarkets, for you to have them on your hipster breakfast.
How long has this been happening?
Later I came across this Guardian documentary from 2011 and sadly it appears things have not changed since then.
People say in these videos that the supermarket giants from abroad are squeezing and putting pressure on the farmers for more stock at lower prices. This will eat into their profit margins. This means that unless they are put under pressure; they will not give legal contracts and they will continue to break the law.
This is a 2 billion pound a year industry and the region has grown because of it. Yet, only some of the workers here are able to see the benefits of their hard labour. They are living on hand outs from the Red Cross and the church.
The Guardian previously reported on it here. This was back in 2011, it accompanied the video.
Spain has just had recent positive press for accepting a boat load of 600 refugees, I hope the government does more to support them than it is currently doing to support these immigrants in the south of Spain.
Thankfully, we now have a PSOE government who may make some changes for these people.
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You can read about my strange trip home from Andalusia here.