Workers who handle waste and recyclables support the health of our communities, economies, and the environment at the expense of their own health and wellbeing. On a daily basis, they may be exposed to hazardous materials, such as household cleaners, pesticides, and medical waste. The COVID-19 pandemic only heightens these health risks, particularly to informal waste pickers who collect the recyclable materials that we throw in the trash.
Labor conditions in the strawberry fields of Andalusia, Spain are harsh for all workers regardless of their nationality: Salaries below the minimum wage, unpaid overtime, long working hours without breaks, and exposure to dangerous agrochemicals without protection are among the issues experienced by workers. The COVID-19 pandemic has increased these workers’ vulnerability to labor exploitation and creates even greater, possibly lethal, health risks.
While the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in large-scale lockdowns, many workers are still required to report to work in crowded workplaces with a lack of adequate protections against the virus.
Verité has identified a number of factors that increase workers’ vulnerability to becoming victims of human trafficking, all of which will likely worsen during and after the COVID-19 crisis, including poverty, inequality, political instability, conflict, crime/violence, and tightening of restrictions on immigration.