Monsanto Faces Class Action Suit Over Allegedly Violating Two Federal Labor Laws
The report, released by Laird Townsend, outlines repeated allegations of labor violations made by migrant farm workers against seed giants Monsanto and DuPont Pioneer for work completed under the supervision of farm labor contractors (FLCs). Townsend reviews government documents, Monsanto records and lawsuits in conjunction with expert interviews to show "allegations including broken recruiting promises, minimum-wage violations, improperly withheld pay and substandard living conditions in seed-corn production."
The day after publication in late June, a federal class action lawsuit was filed against Monsanto on behalf of two migrant laborers.
The class action suit alleges that Monsanto treated farm workers in a manner that violated two federal labor laws: the Fair Labor Standards Act and the Agricultural Workers Protection Act. The Fair Labor Standards Act "establishes minimum wage, overtime pay, record-keeping and child labor standards affecting full-time and part-time workers," according to the U.S. Department of Labor. The Agricultural Workers Protection Act "protects migrant and seasonal agricultural workers by establishing employment standards related to wages, housing, transportation, disclosures and record-keeping," while also requiring federal registration of FLCs.
The plaintiffs allege that Monsanto failed to pay the minimum wage, failed to pay when payment was due, did not keep adequate records of payroll and misrepresented the way workers would be paid, originally stated as flat rate pay per acre. Both plaintiffs in the suit worked in the fields on roguing corn plants—removing from the field those plants with undesirable characteristics—and detasseling, which involves taking off the plants' pollen producing tops. Detasseling is a common method of corn plant hybridization.
Specifically, one plaintiff was promised "good wages and housing" by her contracted recruiter, but found neither enough beds nor enough work. "They said that easily in the first week we would be getting anywhere from US$800 to US$900 or more depending on how fast we worked. And then to get US$300? That was not fair," said the plaintiff. Conditions in the fields—where 45 workers shared one portable toilet—were also poor.
According to Teresa Hendricks, director of the Michigan Migrant Legal Assistance Project and co-counsel in the suit, the suit is believed to be the first of its kind because it addresses work completed in Missouri, Michigan and Illinois. Damages are estimated to reach US$2 million, which Hendricks said could be the highest yet for a suit of this kind. Hendricks points out that the suit could affect hundreds of "similarly-situated migrant agricultural workers who did detasseling work on Monsanto's corn crops."
The suit, however, does not list among the defendants the FLCs or Crew Leaders, who big seed companies commonly hire to recruit workers and oversee work on the farms.
Hendricks said FLCs are excluded because "the crew leaders are not the ones with any real control. They are typically undercapitalized and struggle themselves with Monsanto, some have sued Monsanto even for pay." Hendricks plans to depose them as witnesses in the case. Hendricks believes "the company builds in crew leaders in between Monsanto and the workers ... to hide behind contractors to absolve themselves of responsibility for the wage theft."
The Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting cites that FLCs often have tight margins for employing farm workers and meeting company standards. Townsend found that seed companies can pay FLCs a lump sum without a guarantee of compensating for extra work time necessary to complete the work as required, leaving contractors to determine how to pay workers for their additional labor.
Greg Schell, a Florida lawyer who has represented farm workers for more than three decades, told Townsend that "there is a real incentive for the labor contractors to skim from the workers. The fee paid the contractors by Monsanto and the other seed companies [is] insufficient in many instances for the contractors to pay the workers the wages required by law, pay all taxes and the like, and still make a profit."
Monsanto not only delegates work to contractors that is typically completed by formal employers (like keeping timesheets and worker payment records) but also repeatedly rehired three contractors against whom workers had filed complaints of labor violations, the report states. According to Townsend's research, complaints ranged "from paying 'far fewer hours than they worked' to 'failing to provide [required] toilet facilities, hand washing facilities with potable water and cool potable drinking water.'"
Use of FLCs in the seed-corn industry has increased since the 1980s as the demographic of Midwestern farm workers has shifted from local teens to increasingly migrant populations, according to experts in Townsend's report. FLCs can help as "bilingual go-betweens [and] risk absorbers," even in such instances as immigration raids, said farm labor statistician Philip Martin of the University of California-Davis.
Townsend said legal aid lawyers find that Monsanto "[does] not explicitly accept liability for all [its] contractors' actions." Monsanto representatives communicating with Townsend maintained their stance that FLCs are the employers of the seed-corn farm workers and that these independent contractors are responsible for acting within legal bounds of employment and labor regulations.
Even considering the 2007 appeals court ruling in Reyes v. Remington Hybrid Seed Co., which stipulated that seed-corn companies are responsible for the actions of their contractors in charge of recruitment and supervision of workers, seed-corn companies fail to accept responsibility, according to the lawyers.
Monsanto and other large seed production companies have faced numerous allegations related to violated labor laws in the last decade, the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting found, with a history of settling individually with workers. "The companies generally deny wrongdoing or claim insufficient knowledge to respond to the allegations," the report says, and "settlements normally explicitly stipulate no admission of wrongdoing on the part of the defendant."
In recent years, settlements have become the norm. Illinois Legal Aid attorney Keberlein Gutiérrez believes Monsanto has "built in an amount of roughly US$500 per person as an average settlement." These settlements, which can increase slightly in negotiations, can be irresistible to farm workers, Gutiérrez said, "because a family of four only makes an average of US$14,000 a year."
Legal aid lawyers and experts told Townsend the cases they see are a small sample of all the violations that occur. Migrant workers, one lawyer said, are hesitant to voice concerns out of "fear [of] losing their wages, forfeiting scarce work the subsequent year or being stranded with no funds to get home." The president of Farmworker Justice told Townsend in the report, "almost any time we talk to farm workers, we find they're suffering illegal conditions."
Furthermore, as about half of all farm workers are undocumented, about half of the farm labor force is ineligible for representation by legal aid groups. This is due to mid-1990s Congressional legislation that "has effectively prevented legal aid organizations from representing some legal immigrants and all undocumented workers," according to Townsend.
The rise of labor contracting systems in the seed-corn industry, say legal aid attorneys, has paralleled the rise in labor violations complaints. However, the experts cited in Townsend's report expect that labor violations in other crop industries might be even more severely underrepresented by lawsuits than in seed-corn. This is because seed-corn farm workers make a relatively high wage (nearly minimum wage, compared with US$2 to US$3 per hour for some farm work), meaning positions are disproportionately filled by documented workers.
Furthermore, seed-corn companies tend to be large, with deep pockets and in the public eye, bringing more attention from legal aid clinics. Smaller operations, Gutiérrez told Townsend, might be committing even more serious violations outside of the spotlight.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
Bayer's $10 billion settlement to put an end to roughly 125,000 lawsuits against its popular weed killer Roundup, which contains glyphosate, hit a snag this week when a federal judge in San Francisco expressed skepticism over what rights future plaintiffs would have, as the San Francisco Chronicle reported.
- Judge Blocks California From Putting Cancer Warning on Roundup ... ›
- Bayer Settles Roundup Cancer Suits for Over $10 Billion - EcoWatch ›
By Charli Shield
When an elephant dies in the wild, it's not uncommon to later find its bones scattered throughout the surrounding landscape.
Elephant Burial Grounds<p>Highly social creatures that form deep familial bonds, elephants have long been observed gathering at the site where a peer or family member has died — often spending hours, even days, quietly investigating the bodies or the bones of other dead elephants.</p><p>Although the popular idea that dying elephants are instinctively drawn to special communal graves — so-called "elephant graveyards" — is a myth, their tendency to go out of their way to visit the bones and tusks of the deceased isn't unlike human rituals at graveyards, says animal psychologist Karen McComb.</p><p>"They spend a lot of time touching and smelling skulls and ivory, placing the soles of their feet gently on top of them, and also lifting them up with their trunks," McComb, who's been studying African elephants for 25 years in Kenya's Amboseli National Park, told DW.</p><p>The most striking part of watching an elephant experience loss, Poole recalls, is the quietude. She still remembers one of the first elephant deaths she witnessed; a mother who birthed a stillborn calf. That elephant stayed with its baby for two days, trying to lift it and defending it from vultures and hyenas.</p><p>"I was so struck by the expression on her face and her body. She looked so dejected. It was really like, 'Oh God, these animals grieve…'. It was just so different," Poole told DW. </p>
Witnessing Emotions in Animals<p>Not all scientists are comfortable concluding that elephants grieve. Among the more than 30 reports of elephant reactions to death that Wittemyer co-reviewed in <a href="https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10329-019-00766-5" target="_blank">a study published in November 2019</a> were accounts of "enormous variation and nuance" he says. "It can be incredibly involved and intricate for extended periods or can be relatively cursory checks."</p><p>In Wittemyer's own experience, it can be difficult not to attribute some kind of emotional experience to the more involved interactions between elephants and their dead.</p><p>He shares the story of an "extraordinary event" involving the death of a 55 year-old matriarch in Kenya in a protected area that happened to be near his place of work. She was visited by multiple unrelated families while she was dying, including another matriarch that exerted such enormous effort attempting to lift her to her feet that she broke her tusk, which Wittemyer says, is "like breaking a tooth." </p><p><span></span>"It was a remarkable example of this heightened emotional state, it was very clearly a very stressful interaction," he says.</p>
A Different Sensory World<p>One factor that limits our ability to fully grasp the way elephants process and respond to loss is our markedly different sensory experiences of the world.</p><p>An elephant's world is fundamentally olfactory — based on smell. Ours is visual. Previous <a href="https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25053675/" target="_blank">research</a> has shown elephants possess the most scent receptors of any mammal, and can <a href="https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17949977/" target="_blank">use smell</a> to discern the difference between different human tribes from the same local area.</p><p>That could explain why elephants exhibit such interest in sniffing the bones and tusks of others, as a <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1617198/" target="_blank">2005 study</a> from McCombs highlighted. When presented with the skulls and ivory of long-dead elephants and those from other large herbivores, including rhino and buffalo, McCombs and her team found elephants approached and were specifically attracted to the remains of their own species. </p><p>Without access to the smells an elephant picks up on, Wittemyer says "an enormous amount of stuff" could be missed by humans when studying these behaviors.</p>
- Elephant Poaching Is on the Rise in Botswana, Study Confirms ... ›
- In 'Conservation Disaster,' Hundreds of Botswana's Elephants Are ... ›
- Botswana Auctions Off First Licenses to Kill Elephants Since Ending ... ›
The Trump administration began the formal process of withdrawing from the World Health Organization (WHO), a White House official said Tuesday, even as coronavirus cases continue to surge in the country.
- Trump Halts WHO Funding Amidst Criticism of His Own Coronavirus ... ›
- WHO Suspends Trial of Trump-Touted COVID-19 Treatment ... ›
- The U.S. Isn't in a Second Wave of Coronavirus – The First Wave ... ›
- What Does 'Recovered From Coronavirus' Mean? - EcoWatch ›
- Black and Hispanic Americans Suffer Disproportionate Coronavirus ... ›
- As Trump Pushes U.S. to Reopen, Internal Document Projects 3,000 ... ›
In a troubling sign for the future of the Italian Alps, the snow and ice in a glacier is turning pink due to the growth of snow-melting algae, according to scientists studying the pink ice phenomenon, as CNN reported.
By Abdullahi Alim
The 2008 financial crisis spurred a number of youth movements including Occupy Wall Street and the Arab Spring. A decade later, this anger resurfaced in a new wave of global protests, from Hong Kong to Beirut to London, only this time driven by the children of the 2008 financial crisis.
1. Learn From the Past<p>Young people tend to be comfortable with change. Their instant adoption of technology is an example.<a target="_blank"> However, they may lack an understanding of the more permanent realities – requiring patience and </a>stoicism.</p><p>This wisdom is typically in the hands of individuals who either work within systems or who have accumulated far more tenure. This was effectively echoed by 13-year old activist, Naomi Wadler who <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=17Aa6XLZe9A" target="_blank">said</a>, "We can educate our youth a lot better. We're not delving deeper into social justice movements from the past."</p><p>Youth movements that are informed by the success and pitfalls of prior efforts offer a more promising outcome. Take for example, the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, co-founded by a 32-year old Alicia Garza.<span></span></p><p>Unlike the civil rights movement of the 1960's, BLM lacks central governance. This means that opponents can't attack its leadership as a means to discredit the whole movement. In the 1960's, this is exactly what happened to the civil rights movement, when critics went after Martin Luther King, stalling the collective efforts of the movement.</p><p>In fact, King spent his final year <a href="https://eu.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2018/04/04/martin-luther-king-jr-50-years-assassination-donald-trump-disapproval-column/482242002/" target="_blank">mired in public disapproval</a> with over 75% of Americans considering him "irrelevant" including 60% of African Americans.</p><p>By studying the legacy of previous efforts, BLM has managed to rally approximately <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/big-majorities-support-protests-over-floyd-killing-and-say-police-need-to-change-poll-finds/2020/06/08/6742d52c-a9b9-11ea-9063-e69bd6520940_story.html" target="_blank">75% of the American public</a>; a feat that will undeniably ensure the longevity of its cause.</p><p>For the youth climate movement, it too must reconcile the long record of activism that predates its tenure. It ought to model itself as an intergenerational movement by giving greater credence to the activists, environmental scientists and <a href="https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/05/juan-manuel-santos-colombia-indigenous-peoples-coronavirus-pandemic-climate-change-environment-nature/" target="_blank">indigenous elders</a> that have fought for climate justice before its inception and ultimately signal the nuance and maturity that would activate allies within systems of power.</p>
2. Become Part of Systems Change<p>From the college campus to the coworking space, you would be hard pressed to avoid the sight of a social impact competition that invites young people to resolve some of the world's most intractable problems.<br></p><p>Unsurprisingly, this often leads to problematic and incomplete solutions. Take, for example, <a href="https://ssir.org/articles/entry/tackling_heropreneurship" target="_blank">an app for African farmers</a> developed by students who have neither farmed nor been to Africa.<br></p><p>Fortunately, there is a growing shift towards empowering young people to better diagnose the systems that uphold inequality. For example, Oxford University hosts the annual <a href="http://www.oxfordglobalchallenge.com/" target="_blank">Map the System</a> competition to celebrate some of the most promising youth-led mappings and the World Economic Forum's <a href="https://www.globalshapers.org/story" target="_blank">Global Shapers Community</a> convenes more than 7,000 young people under the age of 30 to address local, regional and global challenges.</p><p>To achieve systemic change, young changemakers must first unpack systems into <a href="https://wtf.tw/ref/meadows.pdf" target="_blank">three components</a>; elements, interconnections and functions:</p><ul><li>Elements are essentially the key stakeholders in the system. This can include individuals, land or objects.</li><li>Interconnections are the laws and social norms that bind the elements together.</li><li>Functions are the end-goals.</li></ul><p>Take for example, the persistence of sexual harassment in the workplace as a systems issue. The elements in the system would include the victim, perpetrator and other intermediary bodies including line managers and human resource teams. The interconnections could include forced arbitration laws that prohibit employees from seeking public courts and a managerial culture that protects high performing perpetrators and pressures victims into silence. In which case, the ultimate functions (or rather dysfunctions) of the system discourage victims from pursuing action and enable perpetrators and enablers to enjoy the benefits of career progression without due trial.</p><p>Systemic change is about redesigning the interconnections (the cultural norms and laws). In the example above, it involves challenging the use of private arbitrary courts and uprooting a toxic work culture. Reclaiming this intuition opens a pandora's box that ultimately allows for any given system to operate more inclusively.<br></p><p>Today, young changemakers can rely on online resources like <a href="http://systems-ledleadership.com/" target="_blank">Systems-Led-Leadership</a> to analyze any given system of inequality and then direct their unique skills and knowledge towards the most effective intervention.</p>
3. Avoid Heropreneurship<p>Daniela Papi-Thornton first coined the term <a href="http://tacklingheropreneurship.com/" target="_blank">heropreneurship</a> to describe a growing trend that credits social change to the "founder" of an organization or movement exclusively.</p><p>This culture has inspired an entire generation of young change-makers who are swayed by the allure of the "heroic" founder and whose behaviors are validated through youth awards, grants and speaking circuits that glorify a role in the limelight. This pervasive culture undercuts the entire spectrum of actors that really creates social change.</p><p>Social change does not necessarily warrant the creation of a new organization or movement. Change-makers should consider the root causes that perpetuate and uphold inequalities and then map the existing players and solutions. This process might point to scaling up the work of an existing organization or helping a local candidate run for office.<br><br>For young people who wish to create social change, their efforts – while extremely important – may go unnoticed. This is an expectation that needs to be managed.<br></p>
4. Know Your Place<p>In 2016, a political action committee entitled <a href="http://canyounot.org/" target="_blank">Can You Not</a> emerged with the aim of discouraging white men from running for office in minority districts.</p><p>Despite the comical graphics, the campaign highlights an important question for young changemakers, particularly if they advocate for issues that they have not lived: in the quest for social change, can the actions of change-makers unwittingly perpetuate injustices, even as they seek to end them?<br></p><p>In the example above, could the notion of a white man effectively assuming the role of a translator between minority communities and government only reinforce their structural underrepresentation in political decision-making? Could the desire to assume office without lived experience also signal little faith in the leadership of the very communities being served?<br></p><p>A more effective approach to social change may be to encourage such actors to take stock of the unintended consequences of misrepresentation. In doing so, they may come to appreciate the importance of "stepping back" to allow others to "step forward." More concretely, this could result in building trusted relationships with the community and eventually empowering more local voices to consider public leadership.<br></p><p>For young changemakers, it is pivotal that they assess their own standing in a given system and avoid perpetuating the very inequalities they wish to tackle.</p>
Strategic Intelligence: Youth Perspectives. World Economic Forum
A More Targeted, Effective Kind of Activism<p>Social media has played its critical part in providing young people with a vehicle to advocate for social reform.</p><p>Whether it's <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/sep/23/greta-thunberg-speech-un-2019-address" target="_blank">Greta Thunberg's speech</a> during the United Nations General Assembly in 2019 or <a href="https://variety.com/2018/politics/features/emma-gonzalez-parkland-interview-1202972485/" target="_blank">Emma Gonzalez</a> rallying crowds for more stringent gun control. younger voices are swaying public opinion and pressuring political systems to operate more inclusively.<br></p><p>The impact of these extraordinary young people is inspiring, but arguably they struggle to provide a course of action for the average young person who is motivated to pursue social change. The inconvenient truth is that social reform is difficult and even more so for a young person who wrestles with challenges related to experience and credibility.<br></p><p>To be more effective, young changemakers must forge greater bonds with late-stage activists as well as potential allies within systems of power. They must also understand the systems that uphold equality and pinpoint the intervention that would most likely inspire systemic change.<br></p><p>Finally, it is pivotal that they invest in a support system and seek to dissolve <a href="https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/06/this-is-how-wellbeing-drives-social-change-and-why-cultural-leaders-need-to-talk-about-it" target="_blank">personal anxieties</a> that may compromise their change-making potential.</p><p>It's time for youth activism to grow up.</p>
- British Queen Praises Young Climate Activists in Christmas Speech ... ›
- Homeland Security Listed Climate Activists as 'Extremists' Alongside ... ›
- 'We Have So Much More to Do': Youth Climate Activists Declare as ... ›
By Jake Johnson
The Supreme Court late Monday upheld a federal judge's rejection of a crucial permit for Keystone XL and blocked the Trump administration's attempt to greenlight construction of the 1,200-mile crude oil project, the third such blow to the fossil fuel industry in a day—coming just hours after the cancellation of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and the court-ordered shutdown of the Dakota Access Pipeline.
- Construction Begins on Keystone XL Pipeline in Montana - EcoWatch ›
- Trump Approves Keystone XL Pipeline, Groups Vow 'The Fight Is ... ›
- Judge Tosses Major Keystone XL Permit - EcoWatch ›