The role of a whistleblower already brings with it many intense challenges: possible job loss, drop in income, broken relationships, etc. But what if these brave souls were also seen as criminals in the eyes of many? To have a voice at all is a potential risk – let alone speaking out against the system that employs you. This is the conundrum confronting many immigrant workers in the country — particularly in the agriculture and food industries.
According to a Migrant Farmworker Justice Project spokesman, immigrant laborers (mostly from Mexico or Central America) encompass a whopping 85 percent (!) of U.S. farm workers, the majority of which are undocumented. Comedian Stephen Colbert’s recent testimony in front of Congress spotlighted the effort to provide benefits, including citizenship, to this silenced population that plays a vital role in preparing and packaging our food supply.
What’s ironic is that the men and women helping to bring food to American plates may struggle to feed themselves. In an Urban Institute study released Tuesday, results show that higher proportions of low-income Hispanic children use emergency food assistance, most of them in households with working adults (including many farm and food service workers). And because of their citizenship status, many are afraid to apply for food stamps, likely leaving them at greater nutritional risk than other groups.
The hostile environment facing these workers stifles their potential as truth-tellers within the food system. As they try to secure a livelihood for their families, they lack the necessary protections to uphold food integrity – leaving concerns of gross working conditions and other violations unheeded. The Food Integrity Campaign supports efforts to establish rights for this untapped whistleblower resource and is collaborating with groups to give voice to these defenders of public welfare.
Sarah Damian is Communications Manager for the Food Integrity Campaign.