The Hagstrom Report

Agriculture News As It Happens

Sexual harassment of food workers target of campaign

The Southern Poverty Law Center, a national civil rights group based in Montgomery, Ala., today launched a national campaign to raise awareness about the sexual violence and harassment faced by immigrant women employed in the U.S. food industry. The campaign will also educate immigrant women about their workplace rights against sexual violence.

At a news conference in Washington, Carina Diaz, who has worked in a variety of jobs in New York agriculture, said that female farm workers and food processing and restaurant employees are subjected on a daily basis to propositions, unwanted touching and sometimes taken to remote areas where worse violations occur.
Speaking of her own situation, Diaz said she felt she could not go to the police.

“I felt that there was nobody who could help me,” she said. “I’m here because I want all of this to come to light so that other women do not have to suffer like I have suffered.”

Mary Bauer, the SPLC legal director, stressed that “virtually every American” relies on the labor of immigrant women for the food they eat and the wine they drink.

U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission general counsel Patrick David Lopez said at the news conference that the EEOC has pursued a number of sexual harassment cases on behalf of immigrant women and won them, but that employers still “gamble that there will be no enforcement” because the women fear loss of jobs or deportation.

Monica Ramirez, an SPLC attorney who leads the immigrant women’s project, said, however, that federal agencies need to be more aggressive in informing women of their rights and pursuing cases. Immigration reform is needed so that the women would not fear deportation, she added.

The SPLC in 2010 published a book, “Injustice on Our Plates: Immigrant Women in the U.S. Food Industry.”

* [Southern Poverty Law Center website](