lividsnails: March 2008 Archives

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. 

If you're in or around Washington DC on César Chavez's birthday (March 31st) here's a good way to celebrate the great labor leader's life and work.

The Mexican Cultural Institute is currently showing an exhibit of photographs by award-winning California photographer Rick Nahmias.  Nahmias' photos document "the lives of one of America's largest invisible and disenfranchised populations" (farmworkers) and provides a powerful visual argument about the human cost of US agriculture.  The photos are also exhibited in Nahmias' new book, The Migrant Project: Contemporary California Farm Workers, available from University of New Mexico Press.

Monday, March 31st
What is the Human Cost of Feeding America?

5:00pm
Roundtable Discussion with:

Demetrios G Papademetriou, President, Migration Policy Institute

Bruce Goldstein, Executive Director, Farmworker Justice

Irasema Garza, Member of the Board, Farmworker Justice

Rick Nahmias, Photographer, The Migrant Project


6:00pm
Presentation of the exhibit by the photographer

A Reception and book signing will follow.

The Mexican Cultural Institute is located near the Columbia Heights metro station at 2829 16th St NW.  To RSVP or for more information:
 www.instituteofmexicodc.org,
(202) 728-1675
icmdc@instituteofmexicodc.org. 

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