Your fruits and vegetables may not be vegan certifiable

Your fruits and vegetables may not be vegan certifiable

Vegan Society of Canada News
February 4th 2021

Animal exploitation isn’t limited to industries that directly use animals; it exists in the production of fruits and vegetables as well. In order to maintain our vision and to be in integrity, we are shedding light on this exploitation in plant agriculture.

A report released last summer by the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change (MWAC) outlined some of the unacceptable exploitation human animals face in their daily lives, some while producing our fruits and vegetables. This report highlights various form of exploitation, some heightened by COVID-19, and many faced on a daily basis:

  • Lack of permanent resident status makes it impossible for workers to assert their rights
  • $57,369.46 stolen from workers in the form of deductions and unpaid wages. Some of these deductions were illegal, while others took the form of ‘withholding agreements’ that workers were forced to sign because they were given no choice or were under threat of deportation
  • Living conditions and crowding. Such complaints included lack of essential supplies, cleanliness, cramped quarters, and the presence of animals and pests
  • Workers reported lack of access to healthcare services, particularly lack of health cards
  • Workers could not socially distance and did not receive decent food, income or health information during quarantine
  • Workers reported increased intimidation, surveillance and threats from employers often under the guise of COVID-19 protocols
  • Workers reported working for weeks without a day off, being forced to work long hours, and suffering increased strains, injuries and sickness due to increased pace of work. Most employment and labour laws exclude migrant workers—there are no rights to minimum wage, overtime pay, hours of work, breaks, days off, or collective bargaining. As a result, employers are forcing workers to work at breakneck speed to ensure their profit

The report goes on to highlight the importance of migrant workers to agriculture in Canada. Canadians don’t want to kill animals themselves, as we’ve written about in the past, and as a consequence let others shoulder this suffering. However, the reality is there is also a significant proportion of migrant workers in all agriculture, including plant agriculture, and as outlined above they face many problems. The report stated that in 2017, migrant workers in Ontario were 41.6% of all agricultural workers.

In their investigations, MWAC reported various unacceptable exploitation of animals at corporations which produce our fruits and vegetables:

Only when some workers were sick to the point that they couldn't get up to go to work, were they tested for COVID-19. Once they tested positive, workers reported being moved into two houses with 20 workers each and just three bathrooms. Each room in the house has six workers in cramped quarters.
The migrant worker patient in ICU was about to be placed on a ventilator and his verbal consent was required for him to be anaesthetized. The doctor had tried to communicate using the Google Translate app on his phone. When we spoke to the worker informing him about his choices and that he may not wake up again, he confirmed that no interpretation had been provided in the previous days. He did not have his phone, his family in Mexico had not been informed, and he needed support to get in touch.
Greenhouses are some of the worst culprits—we received evidence from eight different greenhouses and 365 workers who were housed in conditions that they were not able to socially distance even during quarantine.
At a peach and grape farm in Niagara, 16 workers reported receiving only one loaf of bread and a carton of eggs to feed them all for two days.
As a result of understaffing, asparagus harvesters report working between 16 and 17 hours a day, six days a week. At a grape and peach farm in Niagara, 12 workers reported putting in 63 hours a week, working seven days straight, for four consecutive weeks while their coworkers were shut out of the country due to travel restrictions.

We encourage you to read the entire report; it is clear that the factors which cause human animals to exploit other animals are very much present in all forms of agriculture.

This is unacceptable. Our vision is clear and we are working to end the exploitation of all animals, including human animals. Some of those practices are not only against our vegan standard but, since our standard concerning the conditions of human animals is mostly based on various globally agreed upon United Nations standards that Canada was a signatory to, also breach Canada’s international commitment.

We are very concerned that some of the practices described in the report could be considered practices similar to slavery as defined in the United Nations supplementary convention of 1956. We will not accept the exploitation of animals in the production of dairy products, eggs, meat or asparagus. However, we can’t stop eating fruits and vegetables, so what are we going to do about this?

After much consideration, we are launching our new whistleblower program and encouraging various migrant organizations and the general public in Canada to contact us so we can work together to end animal exploitation. We have also rolled out our new toll-free number so we can be reached more easily throughout Canada. When cases are reported, we are committed to investigating and, after verification, to immediately taking action, including a ban from vegan certification if violation of our standards are not rectified within 30 days.

If you have evidence of animal exploitation in the production of fruits and vegetables in Canada, please contact us by phone or email. We will respect your privacy and will only act upon what you allow us to do.

Our vision is clear, and we will not accept the violation of already existing animal rights while we work to achieve our vision.

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