Millions of migrant farm workers exploited in Europe’s fields, says Oxfam

Publié: 4th juin 2024


  • Approximately 1 in 4 workers in Europe’s agriculture sector are migrants. 
  • Migrant workers face violence, long working hours, and routine underpayment. 
  • The new EU supply chains law, the Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence Directive, is a tool to combat this exploitation. 

Europe’s agriculture industry is exploiting the at least 2.4 million migrants who harvest Europe’s fruits and vegetables. This is according to a new report published today by the University of Comillas and Oxfam researchers titled “Essential but invisible and exploited.” 

The report underscores a systemic violation of migrant workers’ rights under European Union labor and human rights law spanning nine EU countries. According to the latest statistics, 1 in 4 workers in Europe’s agricultural sector are migrants but in reality, there might be many more. 

“We want to expose the underbelly of Europe’s agricultural industry, which has at its core exploitation and breaches of European law”, said Nerea Basterra, Oxfam Intermón Head of Private Sector. 

In the nine countries examined, with Finland being the exception, migrant workers are paid below the minimum wage with women typically receiving lower salaries. As a case in point: in the Spanish region of Huelva, half of the women interviewed reported earning less than their male counterparts, while in Italy, women migrant workers report earning up to 30% less than men.

The report finds that instances of abuse, including sexual abuse, intimidation techniques and violence in response to strikes, were commonplace. Workers with temporary permits or irregular status face a greater risk of exploitation due to their precarious employment situation. For example, wild berry pickers from Thailand were reported to work up to 19 hours a day in Sweden.

Accommodation is frequently overcrowded, expensive, and isolated. Women workers have reported instances of being sexually blackmailed by accommodation supervisors. Some workers live in makeshift slums, which can lack running water, heating, and waste collection and where there is a risk of disease and fire – either accidental or arson attacks. Some workers are also homeless. 

Accidents and injuries are frequent due to employers failing to give adequate training and protective equipment, particularly in Spain and Italy. There are documented cases of workers being poisoned, and one man died after not receiving water during a full day of work in 44-degree heat. 

The EU recently approved new rules on supply chains for large companies. These rules will facilitate access to justice and compensation to survivors, as well as the obligation for agribusinesses and retailers to prevent and take responsibility for human rights violations.

“European leaders can no longer ignore the exploitation lurking in the agricultural industry and sneaking into every European’s shopping trolley. But there is hope in a new EU law on supply chains – it could end exploitation, if European countries use it right,” said Nerea Basterra. 

Notes aux rédactions

Spokespersons are available for interview and comment in English and Spanish.

You can download Oxfam's report Essential but Invisible and Exploited.

Spain, France, Italy, the Netherlands, and Poland account for 72% of fruits and vegetables produced in the EU. 

The European Economic and Social Committee estimated the number of migrants with temporary contracts working in the EU’s agricultural sector at 2.4 million – the equivalent to 26% of the total number of workers in the EU agriculture sector at 9.2 million in 2021. This does not include those who are employed on a non-seasonal basis, hired through intermediary agencies and those without papers. It is impossible, therefore, to have a reliable estimate.

The EU recently agreed on the EU’s new supply chain rules. This law — the Corporate Due Diligence Directive (CSDDD) — aims to make companies accountable for the damage they cause to people and the planet. 

Oxfam calls for:

  • A guarantee for human rights in the agriculture industry through the recent EU supply chains law – the Corporate Due Diligence Directive.
  • Promoting the representation and defence of migrant agricultural workers in unions.
  • Improved accommodation options through sufficient funding.
  • Ensuring workers receive training in a language they understand and have the equipment they need. 
  • Access to residence permits and economic compensation for migrants with an irregular status who are survivors of labor violations. This approach ensures they are not penalized by immigration laws and receive the necessary support and recognition for labor violations.  
  • Implementing stronger social conditionality in the EU’s common agricultural policy (CAP) with agricultural programs and payments strictly adhering to labor and social standards, especially in sectors particularly prone to exploitation like agriculture.


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