Who’s picking your food?

Image from the documentary film Food Chain$. | Photo courtesy of Food Chain$

Image from the documentary film Food Chain$. | Photo courtesy of Food Chain$

Pablo Godoy is the national representative for the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, Canada (UFCW Canada) and founder of Students Against Migrant Exploitation, or S.A.M.E. On Feb. 20, Godoy was the keynote speaker for the documentary Food Chain$, which showcased in Vancouver at KDocs, Kwantlen Polytechnic University’s own documentary festival.

The documentary Food Chain$, by director Sanjay Rawal and set in the United States, was released in November 2014, premiered at the Berlin Film Festival then screened at the Tribeca Film Festival and the Guadalajara Film Festival.

Food Chain$ follows a group of Florida farmworkers battling to defeat the global supermarket industry through their Fair Food program.

“In the U.S. there’s more criminalization of immigration for economic or political gain, but in Canada there’s more of this manufacture of desire. It’s easy to bring workers, and just as easy to send them away if they don’t fit the demands of employers,” says Godoy.

The Canadian perspective

Godoy, who was born in Guatemala and raised in Toronto, says that Canadians’ desire for cell phones necessitates actual excavation of minerals in foreign countries. In Guatemala, Canadian companies mine for gold or natural resources in ancestral and indigenous lands, displacing thousands of indigenous people in the process. The government’s response, he says, is to put them into temporary foreign workers programs.

“It’s not uncommon to see small Mayan communities from Guatemala as temporary foreign workers in Canada because a Canadian mining corporation pushed them off their land,” says Godoy.

Godoy explains that, after living and working in Canada for more than a year and still under the seasonal agriculture program, a migrant cannot take an English course, or any such course that interests the employee, says Godoy.

“Even learning English can be seen as a violation of the program. It’s a systemic issue that limits their access to education and knowledge,” Godoy says. “I’d contend that it’s to the employer’s benefit for employees to speak English.”

According to Godoy, laws and employers are often given the benefit of the doubt when a worker says s/he’s been taken advantage of.

“We see physical, sexual, financial and psychological exploitation. For instance, we found an employer charging rent at $250 per person, and 18 people were living in the home and were charged for transportation and health and safety (which was never provided), while living in a bunk bed,” he says.

Desperate plight of migrant workers

Pablo Godoy, founder of S.A.M.E. | Photo courtesy of Pablo Godoy

Pablo Godoy, founder of S.A.M.E. | Photo courtesy of Pablo Godoy

Although Canada has more than 15 labour organizations, unless a tragedy happens, such as the 2009 incident in Toronto, when on Christmas Eve four migrant workers fell off a scaffolding without any safety protection, the exploitation is predominantly ignored, explains Godoy.

“It’s Canada’s dirty little secret. We have this labour force that is often exploited and mistreated, physically, mentally and illegally. We’ve passed laws that actually discriminate against workers,” Godoy says. “There’s also been a predominant increase in cancers caused by poisonous pesticides in the Mexican farm workers.”

Godoy sheds light on migrant workers who arrive in British Columbia from Central America. They are already carrying mortgage-sized loans that originate from their home countries and have been set up by “recruiters.”

Godoy further explains that migrant workers arrive here and are greeted by employers who require unreasonable rents while expecting 10 to 12 workers to live in the same room despite current health and safety standards. These methods have continued for over 50 years.

“We have conscious consumerism – buy local, green, organic, at a premium, but what’s forgotten in the equation is who’s picking your food,” says Godoy.

For more information, visit www.thesame.ca.