Monday, March 4, 2024

Avocado farm workers in Michoacán file USMCA labor complaint

Avocado workers at a plant in Uruapan, Michoacán have taken their grievances to the United States government.

Claiming that RV Fresh Foods has violated their labor rights, a group representing local workers filed a petition this week under the Rapid Response Labor Mechanism — a tenet of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), the free trade pact that superseded NAFTA in 2020.

Other avocado companies are facing similar allegations, including WestPak, Del Monte and Global Frut. (westpakavocado.com)

The National Central Confederation (Cocena), a labor group representing approximately 400 workers, has accused Uruapan-based RV Fresh Foods of obstructing collective bargaining and freedom of association under Mexican law. 

Cocena also said the Mexican government has been inactive on the issue.

Seeking resolution via the USMCA is a groundbreaking move for the avocado sector, but not unprecedented amongst Mexican workers. A few months ago, the USMCA got involved in a labor situation at a Mexican mine in Zacatecas, and in 2022, labor rights at Goodyear México came under USMCA review.

Cocena chief Víctor Mendoza Pantoja, said he filed the petition to ensure compliance with the commitments outlined in the USMCA labor rights agreement. He presented the complaint in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday, which focuses on RV Fresh Foods but extends to other companies in the Uruapan region affiliated with the Association of Avocado Exporting Producers and Packers of Mexico (APEAM).

The main allegations include making threats against unionization efforts and not allowing free association.

“We have had a lot of resistance from APEAM to unionize, because they control the cutting of avocados and they do not want to provide social security to [the] 63,000 workers who are involved in cutting, packaging, transporting and processing,” Mendoza said. Processing includes the production of guacamole.

The union chief also presented evidence of “bad practices” in RV Fresh Foods’ payroll department, including alleged tax evasion. He also said that Michoacán avocado workers are unjustly controlled by APEAM, a self-labeled “nonprofit civil association” that has 84 affiliated packing plants.

He said he hopes the evidence, and the desire to comply with standards recognized by the United Nations’ International Labor Organization, will prompt action from the Mexican Economy and Labor ministries.

He also pointed out that other avocado companies are facing similar allegations, naming WestPak, Del Monte and Global Frut. Thus, he said, the complaint serves as a pivotal moment in addressing broader labor issues within the avocado sector.

According to APEAM, it represents more than 34,000 avocado growers and is the only Mexican association cleared to export avocados to the United States.

In the 12 months that ended on June 30, 2023, Mexico exported 1.13 million tonnes of avocados to the United States, according to Avocados from Mexico, the U.S.-based marketing arm of APEAM.

Approximately 82% of Mexican avocados come from Michoacán, according to the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development. 

Avocados from Mexico said recently that if guacamole is served at a Super Bowl party in the U.S., chances are 96% that the “green gold” came from Mexico.

With reports from El Economista and La Jornada

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