Did you know fruit picking is a really high risk area for slavery in Australia and overseas? People are made to live in squalid rooms, and many are sexually abused. Most of them have to work really long hours and with almost no pay. So they are being totally ripped off.

We are hearing about this all the time at the Freedom Hub. Because we are an anti slavery organisation, we get people calling us and telling us stories from their time working on farms. So we are pretty glad when we see it exposed in the media.

This post looks into this issue. We have drawn from experiences in the UK and also here Australian. As a result we really hope this gives you a glimpse into something many Aussies ignore.

Women picking fruit for UK supermarkets ‘facing new forms of exploitation’.

The Guardian reported on dire and sometimes exploitative conditions in the fruit and vegetable picking regions of Spain. These farms supply berries and salad to supermarkets across Europe.

Spain’s strawberry industry has often been plagued by stories that Moroccan women who have suffered. Because they experience sexual violence, exploitation and assault while working on farms in Spain.

This week various rights groups and lawyers have appealed to the United Nations about this. They have to urgently investigate these stories of terrible working conditions and a lack of protection for workers against Covid-19 infection.

We chose to share this example because it shows how easily two countries working together can end up with slavery. This is why supply chain auditing is so important. We are pretty sure most Brits don’t have a clue when they bite into a juicy strawberry that they bought at the local store!

In Australia, fruit pickers and harvesters are an Invisible workforce.

Governmentnews.com says “exploitation of migrants is rampant in the agricultural sector”.

The National Union of Workers (NUW)  has launched an investigation into exploitation in Australia’s fruit picking industry where some foreign farm workers are enduring “slave-like conditions” .

Ms Cinanni says migrant workers are the “invisible workforce” in Australia. Packing produce in “highly exploitative” working conditions. They often face underpayment, overworking, harassment, assault and threats of deportation.

Migrants “invariably” work in the agricultural sector. And those on temporary and permanent visas, as well as undocumented immigrants, were most vulnerable to exploitation, she said. Ms Cinanni has visited hundreds of farms across Australia and only a “handful” pay minimum wage. She says, often using a rate based on the quantity of fruit to avoid paying hourly rates.

Can you believe that people can be treated like this in our country? “INVISIBLE” – not any more if we can help it.

Slavery like conditions in Tasmania

In February this year, we were completed shocked by this story right here in Australia.

77 people were sharing a 5 bedroom house while working on a strawberry farm. The workers had been picking berries for the Costa Group. Apparently the sewage had given up, the place stunk, and they rarely got to shower.

The ABC reports “Latrobe Council said it issued an emergency order to evacuate up to 70 residents, understood to be from Tonga, from a five-bedroom house at Shearwater, east of Devonport.”

The Australian Workers Union said it was one of the worst cases of exploitation it had seen. Because as many as 77 people were living in “slum-like” conditions, and each paying up to $130 a week in rent.” Full story.

This is just not on.

A spokesperson from the Australian Border Force said that foreign workers and unlawful non-citizens are particularly vulnerable to slavery and slavery-like practices. And said the ABF is continuing to work with partner agencies to target foreign work exploitation.

The spokesperson also pointed to recent law reforms providing greater protections for workers on visas. Including abolishing the subclass 457 visa and putting in place new sanctions against sponsors who don’t comply with sponsorship rules.

So we are really hoping these ‘reforms’ make a difference. This whole situation makes us so mad.

The Freedom Hub helps victims recover.

That’s why we started the Freedom Hub. We just can’t deal with the thought that this can be happening to people in my country. Because let’s face it, we are so privileged in Australia. It is so annoying when a few rotten, greedy, people do this to others.

The Freedom Hub Survivor School helps people who have experienced this crime.

We are the only long term care in Australia. This means, we are aren’t going anywhere. That’s right, as long as they need help, we are there.

“We are appalled that this is happening. No one should be treated this way in Australia.” says Sally Irwin the founder of our anti slavery organisation. “We work hard to raise awareness and to help victims recover.”

You can help us do more in a number of ways. It is easier than you think.

One of our goals is to give EVERY one an opportunity to do something about this crime.

So take a minute to check out how to do that HERE.  Or you can DONATE to help us do what we do!!

We hope you have learnt something and can do something. Thanks for reading!

The Freedom Hub crew.