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Mexico, Walmart work together to create better lives for farm workers

The Mexican government is in the works with Walmart to improve labor conditions at many of Mexico’s agribusinesses – the same agribusinesses that supply 90 percent of major US companies like Walmart with produce.

A recent investigation by the L.A. Times found gross negligence and farm worker abuse at produce export farms.

Enrique Martinez, Mexico’s secretary of agriculture, announced the creation of an alliance of the produce industry groups that will begin enforcing wage laws and ensure health, school and housing improvements for the more than one million farm workers in Mexico’s agribusinesses that generate an excess of $7.5 billion in produce exports each year.

Walmart said they were taking actions to remind buyers to purchase produce only from farms that comply with Walmart’s standards for the treatment of workers. They also said they will begin sending senior leaders to meeting of the International Produce Alliance to Promote a Socially Responsible Industry, the new initiative where Walmart meets with growers.

“This effort is aimed at leveraging the work of a broader coalition to improve the lives of workers, including making it clear that Wamart’s standards do not tolerate working conditions as described in the L.A. Times,” the company said. “We do not want to work with suppliers unless they share this commitment.”

Martinez called the formation of the alliance a special event for the agricultural sector and for the country and commented, “We will continue making history in the sector with successful achievements like this one.”

Walmart added, “We’re optimistic and encouraged that the Mexican Ministry of Agriculture … seems to be taking a leading role in the [alliance] by working closely with producers in Mexico.”

While industry representatives did not provide many details on how they plan to achieve their goals or commit to more consistent worker standards, the involvement of Mexico’s Ministry of Agriculture was taken as a symbol that the country intends to improve the lives of their farm workers.

Already, state inspectors are carrying out camp inspections and two soup-kitchen projects have been jump-started as well as the remodeling of a day care center.

Advocates for the farm workers say that Walmart’s involvement in the effort is seen as crucial being as they’re the largest buyer of produce in a country where labor law is weak to nonexistent and it’s the retailer that has the power to change the lives of the workers.

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