Murcia is an important vegetable growing area and my student works for one of the firms that grows salad crops some of which are destined for the UK market. From what he tells me the company sounds like a dynamic, safety conscious, modern, European business. He had been astonished when one of their UK trading partners sent a message asking for confirmation that his firm doesn't employ slave labour.
The student was scandalised. He couldn't understand why anyone in the UK would think that his firm may use forced labour. We talked about the many immigrant workers who find themselves trapped here, brought in under false pretences, their passports taken from them and forced to work in any number of degrading situations from building work to prostitution. I was reminded of the domestic workers in the UK whose bosses hold their passports, of those Chinese cockle pickers who died in Morecambe Bay back in 2004 or those blokes from Rajasthan working on the Sikh Temple in the UK for 30p per hour maybe ten years ago now. Bad people in every country taking advantage of the hopes and aspirations of the poor.
With the lesson done I drove off to my next appointment with the car radio chittering away in the background. I heard a piece about how the Guardian had printed an article recently uncovering the apalling conditions of immigrant workers in Almeria (the province of Andalucia that forms a border with Murcia) and, suddenly, it all made sense.
Good reactions on both sides I thought. Well done to those Brits for wanting nothing to do with such a filthy business and well done to my Spanish pal for being indignant that his firm could possibly be involved in anything so squalid.