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Society

Slavery Fields Forever? Greek Strawberry Farms Exploit Workers

Strawberry fields in Greece, where there had been abuses against migrant workers – some shot at for demanding their wages – is so extensive that a group of modern slavery experts has asked the government to stop apparent forced labor.

A consortium of modern slavery experts, led by the University of Nottingham, said it had used  satellite technology to identify migrant settlements – a technique pioneered by the university’s Rights Lab – reported Scienmag and the school's site. Labor exploitation was said to be still going on.

The researchers developed a decision model for which they could prioritize victims that were at highest risk, validating the criteria with a government agency and a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) fighting labor exploitation.

This approach is a world-first in the humanitarian sector, with the study, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), being published in the journal of Production and Operations Management, the university said.

It noted that the strawberry fields of Nea Manolada have been in the human rights spotlight since May 2013, when three local field guards shot and injured 30 Bangladeshi migrant workers.

Four years later, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the workers had been subjected to forced labour and that Greece had violated Article 4 of the European Convention on Human Rights by not preventing human trafficking of irregular migrant workers. 

Dr. Ioannis Kougkoulos led the study while at the Rights Lab. He said: “The use of seasonal workers, the relatively low level of skills required, a strong reliance on outsourcing and agent-based recruitment of workers increase the likelihood of laborexploitation. 

“Forced migration caused by crises around the world exacerbates this phenomenon. Refugees and migrants often live-in illegality and experience serious financial distress, which puts them at high risk of becoming victims of labor exploitation,” he added.

“Governments are responsible for ensuring equal treatment for migrant and national workers on their territory, and to protect migrants from being employed under substandard working conditions,” he said.

Dr. Doreen Boyd, a co-author, Rights Lab Associate Director, and Professor of Earth Observation at the University of Nottingham led the ESRC grant that supported this work. 

She said: “We have demonstrated how remote sensing data enables the identification and location of informal settlements of workers in potential situations of labour exploitation over a large geographic area.

“Identifying these settlements from the ground would require driving around the entire study area in search of possible settlements, which would be costly and ineffective, since many settlements are not visible from the road,” she added.

It wasn't said what the New Democracy government was doing in response.

The researchers report that fighting labor exploitation in the agricultural sector requires time-intensive fieldwork, including trying to infiltrate farms suspected of exploitation, which governments and human rights groups don't do.

Using remote sensing, a form of satellite technology, for real-time data collection allowed the academics to overcome one of the major challenges of research in humanitarian operations, namely the difficulty of accessing data due to safety and logistical issues limiting access to the field, they also said.

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