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Moroccan fruit pickers complain of exploitation and harassment in Spain

Ten women who left their children at home in Morocco to earn money picking strawberries in southern Spain have said that they were lied to, exploited and even sexually harassed.

Moroccan fruit pickers complain of exploitation and harassment in Spain
Moroccan strawberry pickers, who denounced their working conditions and filed sexual harassment complaints, gesture during an interview at their shelter near Malaga. Photo: Cristina Quicler / AFP

They told AFP how their seasonal jobs turned into a nightmare, with punishing work schedules, “free” accommodation they had to pay for, and in one case attempted rape by a manager.

The claims have prompted fears that such exploitation may be more common across the industry in Spain's south, which is Europe's top fruit and vegetable exporter.

The women are currently living in the southern region of Andalusia, housed by the local SAT union which is supporting them, in an area they asked not be made public. Five have filed official complaints and the others are planning to do so.

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File photo of migrant workers in strawberry fields in Spain. Photo: AFP

They are all mothers — having children is a condition to get the job, a guarantee they will return to Morocco at the end of the February-June picking season.

“What is in the contract has nothing to do with reality,” says Layla, 31, whose name has been changed to protect her identity, as was those of the others who spoke to AFP.

'No one defended us'

Layla is one of 16,000 Moroccan women who came to Andalusia to pick strawberries earlier this year, compelled by poverty back home.   

Like the other nine women, Layla worked in the province of Huelva in Andalusia for the large Donana 1998 company, which categorically denied the allegations and had accused the women of creating a scandal to try to stay in Spain.

Adiba, 35, says the contract she signed in Morocco offered a salary of €39 to €40 ($46 to $47) a day for six-and-a-half hours of work, with one day off every week.   

But instead she says “we were told it was the second harvest” and they would be paid for how much they picked — 75 cents for every five-kilogramme (11-pound) crate.

And they had to “pick strawberries very, very quickly” or they were banned from working for several days, she adds.   

The contract also said there would be free accommodation, but she says she was charged three euros a day.

Charifa, 23, says no one defended them “as women” and bursts out crying as she describes how her manager offered her €50 in exchange for sex.   

The room becomes quiet when Fadila, 29, speaks of the time she accepted an offer by the “chief” to give her a ride in his car.   


Photo: Cristina Quicler/ AFP

“I had to fight him in the front seat, he grabbed me and kissed me forcefully, he touched my breasts and…” she says, without finishing the sentence.

A petition denying the women's accusations and defending the company has been signed by 131 other Moroccan seasonal workers.   

Donana 1998 itself has refused to answer questions, with a spokesman saying “everything is in line with regulations.”   

But in a radio interview, Manuel Matos, one of the company directors, accused the SAT union of manipulating the women into lying for political reasons.

Prosecutors in Huelva say at least 12 complaints have been filed by eight Moroccan and four Spanish women who were picking fruit in three different farms.

A spokesperson for prosecutors in Huelva said several managers have been charged with alleged “sexual abuse”, but did not say how many.   

Belen Lujan, a lawyer for some of the workers, says dozens more women would like to press charges but “are scared to do so” or have already returned to Morocco.

'Zero tolerance'

As Spanish workers are increasingly drawn away from seasonal work, the number of Moroccans hired has risen from 200 in 2001 to more than 16,000.   

To be eligible, they must be women aged 18 to 45, “from a rural area”, “healthy” and “with children under 14,” according to Morocco's Anapec governmental job agency.

Diego Canamero, a lawmaker for the far-left Podemos party and a farmer in Andalusia, says there is “no control” over the companies.   

The Cepaim foundation, which works to ease migrant integration, says the women find themselves in “situations of huge vulnerability due to their pressing need to keep their families afloat”.

Cepaim members visited dozens of strawberry farms and reported “confiscated passports”, “women left without work for several days to punish them for not picking enough strawberries,” or “salaries only paid on the day of return”.   

The regional government of Andalusia announced on June 13th that it was drafting “zero tolerance” measures for the industry to come into force next year.

These include giving the seasonal workers leaflets in their language that lay out their rights.

FOOTBALL

Putellas becomes second Spanish footballer in history to win Ballon d’Or

Alexia Putellas of Barcelona and Spain won the women's Ballon d'Or prize on Monday, becoming only the second Spanish-born footballer in history to be considered the best in the world, and claiming a win for Spain after a 61-year wait.

FC Barcelona's Spanish midfielder Alexia Putellas poses after being awarded thewomen's Ballon d'Or award.
FC Barcelona's Spanish midfielder Alexia Putellas poses after being awarded thewomen's Ballon d'Or award. Photo: FRANCK FIFE / AFP

Putellas is the third winner of the prize, following in the footsteps of Ada Hegerberg, who won the inaugural women’s Ballon d’Or in 2018, and United States World Cup star Megan Rapinoe, winner in 2019.

Putellas captained Barcelona to victory in this year’s Champions League, scoring a penalty in the final as her side hammered Chelsea 4-0 in Gothenburg.

She also won a Spanish league and cup double with Barca, the club she joined as a teenager in 2012, and helped her country qualify for the upcoming Women’s Euro in England.

Her Barcelona and Spain teammate Jennifer Hermoso finished second in the voting, with Sam Kerr of Chelsea and Australia coming in third.

It completes an awards double for Putellas, who in August was named player of the year by European football’s governing body UEFA.

But it’s also a huge win for Spain as it’s the first time in 61 years that a Spanish footballer – male or female – is crowned the world’s best footballer of the year, and only the second time in history a Spaniard wins the Ballon d’Or. 

Former Spanish midfielder Luis Suárez (not the ex Liverpool and Barça player now at Atlético) was the only Spanish-born footballer to win the award in 1960 while at Inter Milan. Argentinian-born Alfredo Di Stefano, the Real Madrid star who took up Spanish citizenship, also won it in 1959.

Who is Alexia Putellas?

Alexia Putellas grew up dreaming of playing for Barcelona and after clinching the treble of league, cup and Champions League last season, her status as a women’s footballing icon was underlined as she claimed the Ballon d’Or on Monday.

Unlike the men’s side, Barca’s women swept the board last term with the 27-year-old, who wears “Alexia” on the back of her shirt, at the forefront, months before Lionel Messi’s emotional departure.

Attacker Putellas, who turns 28 in February, spent her childhood less than an hour’s car journey from the Camp Nou and she made her first trip to the ground from her hometown of Mollet del Valles, for the Barcelona derby on January 6, 2000.

Barcelona's Spanish midfielder Alexia Putellas (R) vies with VfL Wolfsburg's German defender Kathrin Hendrich
Putellas plays as a striker for Barça and Spain. GABRIEL BOUYS / POOL / AFP

Exactly 21 years later she became the first woman in the modern era to score in the stadium, against Espanyol. Her name was engraved in the club’s history from that day forward, but her story started much earlier.

She started playing the sport in school, against boys.

“My mum had enough of me coming home with bruises on my legs, so she signed me up at a club so that I stopped playing during break-time,” Putellas said last year.

So, with her parent’s insistence, she joined Sabadell before being signed by Barca’s academy.

“That’s where things got serious… But you couldn’t envisage, with all one’s power, to make a living from football,” she said.

After less than a year with “her” outfit, she moved across town to Espanyol and made her first-team debut in 2010 before losing to Barca in the final of the Copa de la Reina.

She then headed south for a season at Valencia-based club Levante before returning “home” in July 2012, signing for Barcelona just two months after her father’s death.

In her first term there she helped Barca win the league and cup double, winning the award for player of the match in the final of the latter competition.

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