Sustentar: Project to Build and Strengthen Sustainability Systems in the Tomato and Chile Sectors in Mexico
The Sustentar project aims to increase private sector stakeholders’ accountability to uphold core labor standards consistent with Mexican labor laws and the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement’s (USMCA) Labor Chapter, with a specific focus on addressing child labor, forced labor, and acceptable conditions of work. The project will include a focus on states that produce chile peppers and tomatoes, including Baja California, Baja California Sur, and Chihuahua.
According to reports, including by the U.S. Department of Labor and the U.S. Department of State, there are hundreds of forced labor victims working to produce tomatoes and chile peppers in Mexico. Many of these workers report being recruited by middlemen, called enganchadores, who lie to them about the nature and conditions of the work, wages, hours, and the quality of housing and who may also illegally charge recruitment fees.
Some men and women work up to 15 hours per day under the threat of dismissal and receive subminimum wage payments or no payment at all. There are reports of some workers being threatened with physical violence or physically abused for leaving their jobs. Housing for workers and their families is often overcrowded and unsanitary, with no access to potable water, latrines, and electricity. Some workers face growing indebtedness to company stores that often inflate the prices of their goods, forcing workers to purchase provisions on credit and limiting their ability to leave the farms.
The project will achieve its objective by accomplishing the following outcomes:
- Outcome 1: Increased private sector compliance with labor laws related to child labor, forced labor, and acceptable conditions of work in the tomato and chile pepper supply chains.
- Outcome 2: Increased private sector application of effective and sustainable compliance and remediation systems in the tomato and chile pepper supply chains.
To achieve these outcomes, the project will:
- Develop compliance systems to formalize labor recruitment, including through improved record keeping, and ensure the health and safety of workers through digital technology.
- Design cross-sector workshops and learning opportunities for civil society and worker organizations, unions, government agencies, private sector, and other stakeholders to help build consensus around approaches to address child and forced labor and to build relationships and communication across these stakeholders.
- Create a comprehensive set of compliance toolkits and guidance targeted for each stakeholder group to improve the ability of private sector partners and their suppliers to implement and strengthen their social compliance systems and integrate worker voice into these systems, remediation processes, and improvement plans.
- Implement remediation services for forced labor and child labor cases, including a grievance mechanism that provides effective access to remedy in the workplace.
- Publish handbooks and toolkits, including best practices and case studies on social compliance systems, grievance processes, and remediation for use beyond the project.