Mexican government, Wal-Mart take steps to improve farmworkers' lives after investigation

The Mexican government has formed an alliance of produce industry groups that will work on enforcing wage laws and improving housing, schools and health care for laborers at export farms and Wal-Mart following a newspaper's investigation of abuses at agribusinesses supplying major U.S. supermarket chains and restaurants.

Wal-Mart, meanwhile, separately announced that it was reminding its in-house buyers to purchase produce only from farms that meet its standards of decent treatment of workers, the Los Angeles Times reported Friday ( ).

The actions follow a Times investigative series called "Product of Mexico" that was published in December. The Times reported that many Mexican farmworkers were stuck in squalid labor camps, often without reliable water supplies or adequate food. Some bosses were illegally withholding workers' wages so they wouldn't leave before the harvest concluded.

The Mexican government action affecting more than 1 million laborers was announced by the secretary of agriculture, Enrique Martinez y Martinez, on Wednesday at an event attended by representatives of nine trade groups, the Times said. Martinez y Martinez said the alliance is important for the agriculture industry and the country.

The group being formed will represent growers and distributors handling 90 percent of Mexico's produce exports to the United States, which are valued at more than $7.5 billion annually. There were few details of how the goals would be achieved and no commitment to establishing uniform worker-welfare standards, the Times said.

Wal-Mart said the involvement of high-level government officials was vital. The company said senior executives would be sent to meetings with growers involved and would study ways to partner with other groups to improve conditions.

"This effort is aimed at leveraging the work of a broader coalition to improve the lives of workers," Wal-Mart said.

The separate Wal-Mart initiative will also involve asking outside suppliers to certify that they have visited "any new facility they plan to use for Wal-Mart production" and that the facilities meet company standards.


Information from: Los Angeles Times,