After viewing Harvest of Dignity presented by UNC-TV, I immediately think of the social contract theory and labor issues. It is obvious from the video that there is an unequal balance of power and inequality in all matters related to the trade market. Farmers are struggling to maintain profit while providing for their own crews and are barely managing, and there seems to be little social cooperation. While these workers are described as uneducated provided for and certainly hard work which causes much of society to cast value judgments. In North Carolina agriculture is still the backbone of the state and the primary export which must be picked by hand. With this demand, many of these workers come from other countries and obtain temporary clearance to work here in hopes of providing for their families. Others come over illegally and frequently work undetected. Wages are low, and work is very challenging with long hours and physically demanding work.
Interestingly enough Maria, no longer works the fields but continues to cook for those in the fields she retired from. Maria states some camps do not allow showers or water breaks or bathroom breaks without a rigorous schedule. Because of this new laws were developed to change and battle these problems though little has changed. There is little hot water; unhygienic conditions, small trailers overfilled, children playing in septic tubs, one toilet per 10 workers and one wash tub per 30 workers. Consider the sweat and dirt these workers gather and the amount of resources they have. The employees are at times fined for unfit habitations though they are never significant enough to make a lasting impact.
Workers are drawn in without realizing what they will be facing; roaches, sub-par food that they are charged for and once they are there with no money it is difficult to find something different. Workers have actually died from heat strokes. Conditions such as these prevail in many agricultural states the problem does not seem to be going away. Many of these workers do not speak English and are in constant fear of being let go. They are also continually exposed to chemicals which they have no knowledge of and many times they are not informed. Ethical theories that we must take into consideration when viewing this clip are those of simple morality, and despite arguments at the end of the day the system does no address these deeds. Our entire nation has been founded and based on agricultural workers being micro managed traditionally for hundreds of years and though technologically has changed there are many of the same moral mistreatments still general.
Without these workers, we would certainly be in a situation as we depend heavily on these workers despite the little compensation and appreciation we show them. In the Harvest of Shame, though began in 1960, and called the ‘forgotten’ people while exposing unendurable conditions that men, women and children lived while harvesting crops for the best fed nation in the world. One migrant worker reported an income of 7000.00 for the entire year picking tomatoes. Most are from Mexico, and there are no benefits such as insurance or sick pay. Sexual harassment is common.
Florida is one state that is attempting reforms by involving significant businesses in increasing the wage by .01 per pound in order to improve these conditions. Though this same issue has been revisited in one Florida town, much remains the same among field workers. As the hiring process is shown, one farmer notes that once slaves were owned while now they must be rented. Between the two video reports, there are few differences though one constant; these migrant workers or farm workers harvest and provide for the wealthiest and best fed country in the world. While it is noticeable that some programs have been implemented which allow and provide for each child to receive nutritional staples such as milk. Workers in the millions migrate from town to town during the season staying in labor camps; often children are left to fend for themselves while parents are in the fields. One worker describes working over 12 hours in one day for one dollar while food for the day costs about two dollars. She does not see any way to get out of the work she is doing.
Social Contract Theory
While the social contract theory believes that morality defines a set of rules which govern behavior and conditions that rational people accept when we consider the case of migrant and seasonal workers across the country is it known how horrid some of these conditions actually are? Many may justify conditions as it is known that many Mexicans, both legal and illegal comprise the majority of these workers today. Some may argue that this takes jobs from Americans, but it is known that few American would work under these conditions.
They are seen by some as a race or group that should be satisfied with their conditions; they like to travel and have freedoms yet it is admitted that they do live very poorly though this is the choice they have made for themselves. Is this choice forced upon them? Certainly now but in a country where so much need for agricultural workers and so many undereducated and out of work migrants or immigrants this becomes a trap for many of these workers.
This is suggested by some; few complaints come from workers, possibly for fear of being unemployed. It is seen that this work serves these individual’s self needs and allows them to choose their own path. In some ways, this may be correct though once in the situation there is little assistance in improving their station. It is thus then assumed that this way of life is one these workers are accustomed to and satisfied with though there could be improvements as in any facet of life. In acting for their best interest it is often for the best interest of their family as they have absolutely no other way to feed much less clothe families. It cannot be argued that this is the best interest of these populations with these conditions though for some may seem the only option while outsiders view this as their choice in serving their own self interests.
It is easily recognized that these children are the best hopes for this population in order to change family patterns. Human capital formation is but one crude way of stating this situation. These children today are making huge strides at a much greater pace than was so fifty years ago. There is a direct connection that is made and is valid between human capital formation and child labor. One study found that children who did work were provided a larger share of household luxuries such as food (Brown, D., Stern, & Deardorff 2002). While some countries withdraw children from school to face the economic crisis the United States has child labor laws in place though the impact on migrant children remains as these families travel from state to state during the season taking along children who are unable to form relationships or develop contacts which expose them to other types of lifestyles.
Lack of protection of children by labor laws goes unnoticed by those migrants who are here illegally or who go unnoticed and have employees who allow and chance child labor. Programs are in place in most migrant locations now targeted specifically to these migrant and farmworker’s children. Prior to today and now there were now WIC programs, no food stamp programs nor were their medical care programs for these children, so we are attempting to meet the needs of this most vulnerable group.
This theory involves children as it a public policy based on the theory that you should act in a way that benefits all life; that is the greatest benefits for the greatest number of people (Mojonnier, T,2012) Many large corporations and families overseas depend on child labor or their families would not make it nor would corporations have enough work force at the rate of pay they offer which is why most of these corporations move overseas. To reduce production and labor costs which benefits us while at the same time perhaps exploits lax laws concerning child labor in other countries.
India argues that one does not understand the true depth and necessity of child labor in India because of poverty. Children as young as two and three are left alone at home while the mother works as she can at market. Many grew up without education being compulsory or mandated, and this is still true in some countries or at least through the elementary years. From an American standpoint we can see how this leaves little expectations for change unless something is done from the top down.
Here in the US when standards of living increased and improved child labor laws were passed and continue to be implemented more so than in any other country. With labor laws which are universal we now prohibit this practice yet we still have US overseas companies being lax as they are able to in order to save money. Though using this theory if the only possible way for the family to survive day to day without luxury but with minimum living situations are we to prevent them from surviving rather than becoming homeless or taking their children from them? Cultures other than ours have different family structures and it can be an honor to know that one’s contribution is making the difference between eating and starving.
I think it is an unethical practice but in countries such as India I must admit to not knowing what is available as alternatives for survival there? We have tried to implement tactics here to prevent child labor and many of these children are going to become a success and break family patterns. To criticize a culture that relies on each member of the family to actually survive is difficult as I cannot so long as they are not mistreated or abused. Labor does not necessarily mean either of these within a household.
Moral Universalism argues that certain behaviors are only wrong due to what we should consider a universal ethic. This applies to the filthy living camps witnessed in the film clips and the low wages and unsanitary living conditions. It is difficult to use the word universalism because these camps to some may seem luxurious though they are unlivable by most standards. It is incorrect to treat migrant workers or farm workers and their children different because they were not born in America but by the same token they should be given extra opportunity by special programs to learn English and to accommodate themselves to succeed in a new society.
To deny them services based on whether they have obtained citizenship is almost a backhanded slap as without their labor our agricultural trade could not continue. This is only a way for more of their meager incomes to be taken and monitored while they are already unable to exist parts of the year except by 10-12 in trailers. Yet with these benefits as a citizen they are able to receive some assistance such as unemployment and food stamps aside from just for their children. Because of their own culture they are weary of so quickly joining another by denouncing their own citizenship.
- AG1. (2012, April). The Social Contract Theory and Labor Issues. Lecture presented at Power Point.
- Harvest Of Dignity [Motion picture on Http://video.unctv.org/video/2268914359/]. (2012). UNC-TV.
- Brown, D., Stern, & Deardorff. (2002). The Determinants of Child Labor: Theory and Evidence. School of Public Policy The University of Michigan. Retrieved November 1, 2013, from http://www.fordschool.umich.edu
- Mojonnier, T. (2012). When Child Labor Is Ethical. Business Theory. Retrieved November 1, 2013, from http://businesstheory.com/child-labor-ethical/