Melon

Countries Where Melon is Reportedly Produced with Forced Labor and/or Child Labor

Melon Commodity Risk Map
  • Honduras (CL)

  • Mexico (CL)

  • Panama (CL)

Where is melon reportedly produced with trafficking and/or child labor?

According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s 2016 List of Goods Produced by Forced Labor and Child Labor, melons are produced using child labor in Honduras, Mexico, and Panama.[1] The 2017 U.S. Department of State Trafficking in Persons Report lists Honduras, Panama and Mexico as Tier 2 countries.

[1] U.S. Department of Labor. 2016 List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor. 2016. https://www.dol.gov/sites/default/files/documents/ilab/reports/child-labor/findings/TVPRA_Report2016.pdf

What does trafficking and/or child labor look like in the production of melon?

In Honduras, there are 150,000 children under the age of 14 working, over 60 percent of whom are employed in the agricultural industry. Indigenous children are particularly vulnerable to working in the fields alongside their parents or independently. The melon industry is seasonal, which means that children of migrant laborers travel around the country seeking work throughout the year allowing them only limited access to schools.[2] There have been reports of abuse of Mexican farm workers, including in melon production. The reports have described instances of withholding of wages, poor living conditions, lack of food and potable water, and debt bondage.[3] In Panama, children reportedly work in the agriculture sector, including in melon production. The United States Department of Labor reports that child labor in agriculture is particularly prevalent among indigenous children in Panama.[4] Additionally, HRW has reported interviewing children involved in melon production in the United States, although the scope of the problem is not established.[5]

[2] U.S. Department of Labor. 2015 Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor. 2015. https://www.dol.gov/sites/default/files/documents/ilab/reports/child-labor/findings/2015TDA_1.pdf

[3] Maosi, Richard. “Product of Mexico: Hardship on Mexico’s farms, a bounty for U.S. tables.” Los Angeles Times. December 7, 2014. http://graphics.latimes.com/product-of-mexico-camps/

[4] United States Department of Labor. 2015 Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor. 2015. https://www.dol.gov/sites/default/files/documents/ilab/reports/child-labor/findings/2015TDA_1.pdf

[5] Human Rights Watch (HRW).Tobacco’s Hidden Children. May 13, 2014. https://www.hrw.org/report/2014/05/13/tobaccos-hidden-children/hazardous-child-labor-united-states-tobacco-farming

CASE STUDY

Honduran Women in the Fields

In Honduras, a country with a population of just over eight million, more than 25,000 people labor on melon plantations. These workers are primarily female, low-income, and lacking formal education. Although recent consumer campaigns have improved the quality of fruit allowed on the market, very little work has been done to monitor and improve the quality of the working conditions of those who produce melons. Honduran women often work 14 hour days, seven days a week, and have base salaries set at a fraction of the legal minimum wage with no overtime pay. Additionally, these women often work Sundays and holidays without any pay at all. The workers are given no access to social security or other forms of insurance and they are frequently exposed to harsh weather conditions and dangerous chemical fertilizers and pesticides.[6]

In one instance, 16 workers were hospitalized in Honduras after exposure to pesticides on a melon plantation. Two men and 14 women were treated after being exposed to a pesticide “Gramuro” which was mixed with chlorine. Workers experienced fainting, vomiting, nausea, skin and eye irritation, and weakness after a breeze blew the chemicals into the workers while they were eating breakfast. These workers were diagnosed with “chloropricine inhalation poisoning.”[7]

According to interviews conducted by the Coordinating Body of Banana and Agroindustrial Workers’ Unions of Honduras (COSIBAH), during the 14-hour work days, only about half of the workers interviewed reported being given time off for lunch. Less than a third of farm workers interviewed confirmed access to potable water, working restrooms, or cafeteria facilities. Despite working with dangerous tools to remove melons from the vines and being exposed to fertilizers and pesticides, fewer than half of the workers interviewed were supplied with proper training or protective equipment.[8]

A pattern of providing only temporary contracts, due to the seasonal nature of melon cultivation, allows plantation owners to avoid workers organizing and reduces the likelihood of workers reporting unsafe or unethical working conditions.[9]

[6] International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF) and COSIBAH. “Women in the Honduran Melon Industry.” Building a Just World For Workers. 2012. http://laborrights.org/sites/default/files/publications-and-resources/HonduranMelonPlantations2012.pdf

[7] La Tribuna. “Intoxicados 16 trabajadores de melonera.” December 2, 2015. http://www.latribuna.hn/2015/12/02/intoxicados-16-trabajadores-de-melonera/

[8] International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF) and COSIBAH. “Women in the Honduran Melon Industry.” Building a Just World For Workers. 2012. http://laborrights.org/sites/default/files/publications-and-resources/HonduranMelonPlantations2012.pdf

[9] International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF) and COSIBAH. “Women in the Honduran Melon Industry.” Building a Just World For Workers. 2012. http://laborrights.org/sites/default/files/publications-and-resources/HonduranMelonPlantations2012.pdf

Melon Production and Supply Chain

Melons require warm weather to grow, and therefore must be planted after the last frost of the year. The planting of melons is labor intensive. The plants require loose soil and thus tilling is often recommended, which is a lengthy process and the use of a rototiller can be very dangerous. Fertilizer is often suggested for the successful growth of melons, which can be detrimental to the health of the farmworker. Melons can only be pollinated for one day during their growth and thus the selective use of insecticides is required in order to avoid harming bee populations or other local pollinators. The cultivation and management of bees can be labor intensive and dangerous as well.[10] Melons are generally sold as a fresh fruit and so the fruits must be packaged and sent away to processing and distribution facilities.

[10] Iowa State University. “Melons.” Publications. May 2009. http://www.extension.iastate.edu/publications/pm1892.pdf

How do Trafficking and/or Child Labor in Melon Production Affect Me?

Melon pieces

Mexico, a country known to employ child labor in melon production, is a top ten world producer of melons.[11] It is also the number two exporter of melons worldwide and the number one country from which the United States imports melons.[12] Honduras, a country also known to employ child labor in melon production, is the number three country from which the United States imports melons. The United States is the number one importer of melons globally.[13]

[11] Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN, Statistics Division (FAOSTAT). FAOSTAT Database: Food and Agricultural Commodities Production /Countries by Commodity. 2012. http://faostat3.fao.org/faostat-gateway/go/to/browse/rankings/countries_by_commodity/E

[12] UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs. UN Comtrade Database. 2016. http://comtrade.un.org/data/

[13] UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs. UN Comtrade Database. 2016. http://comtrade.un.org/data/

EXAMPLES

What Governments, Corporations, and Others are Doing

Coordination of Banana Unions in Honduras (COSIBAH), an agricultural trade union, advocates for fair treatment of agricultural workers in Honduras, including in the melon sector.

The U.S. Department of Labor International Labor Affairs Bureau (ILAB) has funded a project from 2014-2018 in collaboration with World Vision, CASM, and Caritas to reduce child labor in Honduras. The Project, titled “Futuros Brillantes: Project to Reduce Child Labor and Improve Labor Rights and Working Conditions in Honduras,” aims to address the wellbeing of the 370,000 children involved in economic activities. The program aims to improve access to education and promote freedom of association across the country.[14]

[14] U.S. Department of Labor. Technical Cooperation Project Summary: Futuros Brillantes: Project to Reduce Child Labor and Improve Labor Rights and Working Conditions in Hondura. 2014. https://www.dol.gov/ilab/projects/summaries/Honduras_FuturosBrillantes.pdf

LEARN MORE

Watch this HRW exposé on child labor in US agriculture, including but not limited to melon production.

Watch this LA times video on child labor in Mexican agriculture.

Read a Labor Rights blog post on abuses faced by Honduran workers on melon plantation.