The St. Louis-based seed company Monsanto employs migrant farmworkers each year for work in fields and processing plants.
As part of that employment, Monsanto at times arranges housing for workers.
An ongoing Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting investigation of migrant farmworker housing found that — despite decades of reforms — workers continue to live in camps, trailers, apartments and other forms of housing with substandard conditions.
A series of housing-related questions submitted to Monsanto spokeswoman Charla Lord in June 2015 is listed below.
Q: How does Monsanto go about hiring seasonal agricultural workers and what kind of work do they generally do here in the Midwest? For instance, in Rantoul, Ill., Monsanto has Camp Nightingale, and the workers there come to detassel corn.
A: Most of the seasonal agriculture workers Monsanto hires in the Midwest are hired for detasseling and harvest activities for seed corn production. Seasonal worker crews are comprised of either local or migrant workers. Monsanto utilizes Farm Labor Contractors (FLCs) to recruit and employ seasonal agricultural workers. We are committed to providing a safe and respectful environment for all workers, so we work hard to select FLCs who share our commitment to worker safety, respect and creating a great place to work.
Q: Following up on that, what does Monsanto provide its migrant labor workforce? For example, what are the wages and do the workers have to compensate Monsanto for housing at all?
Monsanto expects all FLCs to pay workers according to applicable laws and consistent with the terms and conditions of their disclosure and/or contractor policy, as regards working conditions. This would include compensation terms, date of employment, transportation arrangements, housing, insurance and other benefits. If the contractor chooses to compensate his workers by piece (for example, by the acre), Monsanto checks to make sure their pay is at least equal to the minimum wage as calculated on an hourly basis. Any housing that is arranged and paid for by Monsanto is free of charge to the worker.
Q: In general, what steps does Monsanto take to ensure the agricultural laborers that work for the company are living in quality conditions?
Monsanto expects all housing provided for use by migrant workers while providing services to Monsanto to meet all required federal, state and local safety and health standards. Housing that is defined by the state as a “migrant camp” is inspected preseason and in season by the state department of health. A license to house workers is only issued after any noted deficiencies are corrected. The in-season inspection serves to follow up while workers are present and to ensure DOH standards are maintained.
Q: Similarly, what steps does Monsanto take to ensure the agricultural laborers are free from health hazards and have access to aid if needed?
Monsanto provides workers with safety training, personal protective equipment and workers’ compensation insurance. Safety training is done at the beginning of each detasseling season and again at the start of harvest. In addition, all Farm Labor Contractors must know and follow Monsanto’s safety requirements. Our corn production sites also employ a full time occupational medicine nurse to monitor conditions, train workers and address any safety incidents. These nurses visit the fields when workers are present. In addition to the nurse, EMT/nurse extenders are also hired during peak season to assist with maintaining the health and safety of the workers.
Q: What can workers do if they have a complaint about the living conditions at a Monsanto camp and, similarly, what does Monsanto do to follow up on that complaint?
Workers with a concern or complaint are encouraged to report it immediately to the Farm Labor Contractor. Workers may also contact Monsanto’s Business Conduct Hotline at 1-877-781-2431 (or firstname.lastname@example.org). We have operators who speak the languages of our workers available to record complaints. Reported concerns are investigated as quickly as possible. We want to address any concerns early, before they escalate, so we also work collaboratively with state legal aid groups to address any worker concerns raised. The contact information for Monsanto’s Business Conduct Hotline is provided to workers when they arrive at Monsanto sites in a document captioned “Expectations of Farm Labor Contractors” in the language of the worker. The document is also posted so all workers have easy access to the contact information.
Q: Some Monsanto camps house hundreds of people. What are the challenges, from the company’s perspective, on providing housing for so many workers? For instance, a common observation on inspection records deals with smoke detectors not working.
Any time you get a large number of people together in one place it can be a challenge. Monsanto-arranged migrant camps are monitored and bilingual Monsanto employees communicate with the workers to assist in identifying and correcting any deficiencies that may occur in season. Typically, these “camps” are not utilized year around, which can present maintenance challenges. The health [and] safety of everyone living there is always the number one priority.
Q: Is there anything else that you’d like to add or elaborate on?
At Monsanto, safety is our top priority. That includes guaranteeing the safety of all the products we produce and ensuring the safety of all our workers around the world. Our commitment to workers who work in farm fields is no exception and is emphasized in the attached “Expectations of Farm Labor Contractors” document. We value our workers and have pledged to provide them with a safe and respectful work environment.