The Human Cost of Profit Over People: Carlitos' Story

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{Crossposted from Harvesting Justice, a new interactive website from the DC-based non-profit Farmworker Justice.]

Corporate responsibility is not just another liberal platitude for Carlos (Carlitos) Herrera-Candelario of Immokolee, Florida.  The three year-old was born with spinal abnormalities, has no arms or legs and has a deformed lung because the company that employed his mother while she was pregnant has much to learn about seeing their workers as human beings instead of machines.  

In 2007 Carlitos’ parents sued AgMart, claiming that their irresponsible pursuit of profit at the expense of workers’ health and safety cost Carlitos a normal, healthy life.  They say AgMart, producers of “Santa Sweets” grape tomatoes and “UglyRipe” heirloom tomatoes, routinely exercised gross negligence and violated worker safety laws through unsafe practices with dangerous chemicals in their South Florida tomato fields. The list of violations included in their claim for punitive damages is long and infuriating.  It includes, among other things:

  • spraying fields with workers present;
  • ordering workers to reenter recently sprayed fields before the recommended airing out period had passed;
  • failing to provide protective equipment to workers;
  • burning used pesticide containers next to fields and workers
  • applying pesticides up to three times as often as allowed by law
  • and negligently using up to eighteen different chemicals on their crops including six classified by the EPA as the most dangerous to humans and the environment and five of which have been shown to cause birth defects in animals.
  • And intentionally ignoring state regulations pertaining to pesticides because "it felt that paying fines to the State was economically less expensive” 

Francisca Herrera, Carlitos’ mother, was sprayed with pesticides two or three times a week while working in AgMart’s fields when she was pregnant.  The chemicals turned her clothes green and stuck to her face, hair and hands.  She worked without gloves because she could not afford to buy them and her employer did not provide them for picking grape tomatoes.  (They did, however, provide gloves to workers picking heirloom tomatoes, because AgMart was “concerned that without gloves, the workers could bruise the UglyRipe tomatoes”). 

Sandy Hoyman photographer (4) med.jpg

Francisca suffered from skin rashes, headaches, earaches, burning eyes and sore throats from her exposure to these toxic chemicals but she continued to work out of economic necessity.  Kenneth Rudo, an environmental toxicologist from the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services who has studied over a thousand pesticide cases over the last eighteen years, testified that Carlitos’ deformities were “more likely than not” caused by pesticides. 

Carlitos’ and his family were not the only ones to suffer.  Other workers also witnessed such irresponsible and dangerous practices with pesticides and testified to incidents involving pesticide spills, workers becoming severely ill on the job, lack of potable water to wash hands and faces and AgMart employees declaring that workers were expendable because there were “fifty people waiting at the gate that they could hire” instead.

A second woman became pregnant twice while working in AgMart’s fields.  She suffered a miscarriage in the first instance while the second child was born missing parts of her face, an ear, the entire lower half of her body and had severe heart and kidney problems.  After the baby died, doctors determined that the child’s deformities were caused by the chemicals in the pesticides.  (Later, the woman became pregnant twice more while not working in AgMart’s tomato fields and gave birth to two healthy children). 

Last week AgMart agreed to settle a civil lawsuit with Carlitos’ family.  While the terms of the settlement are confidential, the list of evidence in the plantiff’s motion for punitive damages is not.  It outlines a heartbreaking story of a company in the reckless pursuit of profit over people.  When corporations stop seeing workers as human beings and start seeing them as units of production, they sacrifice workers’ health and safety as merely the cost of doing business.  This is why Farmworker Justice works so hard to advocate for increased regulations and government oversight to protect workers’ rights and ensure that no more children like Carlitos will have to sacrifice their lives to increase the bottom line of companies like AgMart.  Ensuring that corporations act responsibly and humanely is the least we owe to society, the least we owe to Carlitos.

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yave begnet said:

I hope the settlement can at least permit Carlos and his family to provide some of the medical care he will need for the rest of his life. Though it can never compensate for the injustice that was done.

I didn't see Carlos' parents' immigration status mentioned in the post, but since many farmworkers are not citizens, strengthening migrant rights in this country would do much to give farmworkers more leverage vis-a-vis their employers so these companies couldn't so easily exploit and destroy their own workers. That a company's managers would consciously do this do another human being is sickening. I am sure they are more than happy to pay Carlitos' family to make this case go away.

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This page contains a single entry by lividsnails published on March 28, 2008 12:49 PM.

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