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Race Discrimination in the Agriculture Industry

There are many types of racially motivated behaviors that can take place in the agriculture industry. These behaviors can range from landowners and farmers who express preference for or against a certain ethnic group when hiring, promoting or doing business with others. Discrimination based on race is illegal; nonetheless, racism in one form or another continues to thrive.

Racism in the agriculture industry is a very sensitive topic, because many advocates for equal rights see racism in the current agriculture industry as the modern extension of slavery. Some consider the current state of the agriculture industry to be the product of the concept of modern slavery that has not truly been abolished, but has simply morphed into what it is today.

The United States Department of Agriculture has been dubbed by many, including some of its own employees, the “last plantation,” because of its alleged racially motivated policy making. For example, in 1999, the District Court of Columbia ruled in favor of African-American farmers in its class action lawsuit against the Department of Agriculture. According the lawsuit, the Department of Agriculture had discriminated against African-American farmers, by denying them government loans, or by giving them loans that were smaller than Caucasian farmers. The total compensation that has been paid to this date approaches $1 billion, to over 13,000 African-American farmers.

African-American farmers are not the only ones to suffer from discrimination in the agriculture industry. Over 99% of migrant farm employees belong to other racial minorities. This very cheap workforce is composed primarily of Hispanics. About 75% of all farm employees in the United States belong to an ethnic minority. Hispanics workers on US farms are the lowest paid group of employees in the country. More than 30% of these workers have no possessions other than what they carry with them in their knapsacks. Their jobs are very dangerous, which involves constant exposure to harmful pesticides and industrial chemicals. Accidents and other work-related injuries occur with greater frequency, compared to other trades and industries. Due to the unstable nature of the work, many farm workers tend to relocate frequently, moving from employer to employer, from farm to farm. Generally, these migrant workers do not have any medical insurance or other employment benefits, many of them are undocumented, putting them at great risk of exploitation from unscrupulous employers. Women who belong to this underprivileged group are at an especially high risk of being sexually abused.

Some argue that the agriculture industry would fail without access to cheap labor. However, many of the arguments that advocate the use of cheap migrant labor forces are similar to the arguments put forward by the proponents of slavery in the 1800s. It is wrong to argue that racism and the practical enslavement of a racial minority are essential for the continued profitability of the agriculture industry. Cracking down on racism and minority abuse will force the agriculture industry to find more ethical ways to obtain profits.