• Sunday, October 26, 2014

Boycott Greek strawberries

Shahriar Feroze

THE unprecedented inhuman verdict acquitting a Greek businessman and his associates, who shot and wounded some 28 Bangladeshis last year, serves as a stark reminder that on issues of human rights even a civilised continent like Europe has much to answer for.

The shooting spree had occurred in a Greek strawberry farm last year when the owner and his cohorts took up arms as some 200 workers (mostly Bangladeshis) demanded their six months unpaid wages. Last week, over a year later, what they got was a verdict that not only denied justice but exposed the cruel and ugly face of Greek law. Our labourers worked in squalid conditions, and even without basic sanitation facilities. What baffles us is, who is the concerned authority to monitor and regulate our workers' human and working rights not only in Greece but in the whole of Europe? Well embassies and organisations are not enough.

Our message to our countrymen is: Think twice before you go to shop for strawberries imported from Greece. They are covered with the blood of our immigrant workers there. It's been a week since the verdict was announced, but where is all the hype of those global and European human rights organisations that desperately fight to establish the practice of labour compliance rules in our poorly managed garment factories? Who is there to brand the blood stained-strawberries globally like the many who shamefully brand our RMG products?

For those foreign critics who are extremely worried over the implementation of labour rules in Bangladesh, we have to tell them that they should also focus on the cruel flak that our workers are drawing working abroad. The Greek fruit industry's profit amounts to no less than a few hundred million US dollars every year, and it cannot escape one of its most notorious scandals of all time.

One of the lawyers for the victims, Moisis Karabeyidis, was upset over the verdict and so are we, and, like him, we want to see the case to be placed at the European Court of Human Rights at The Hague -- if the verdict is not reviewed by the Greek authorities.

Though part of the verdict gave two of the accused sentences of 14 years and seven years -- they were also set free pending appeals. However, what worries us is that if the defendants are found guilty, but are not put in prison until after an appeal, we wonder how many criminals don't actually wait around but disappear instead? Moreover, the farmers admitted to the shooting, particularly the owner along with his foreman, then how could they not be found guilty? We expected the Bangladeshi embassy in Greece to have acted more responsibly in taking prompt measures to ensure and collect the six-month unpaid wages of our strawberry pickers. That, too, hasn't happened. Repercussion of the Greek verdict over the shooting of our strawberry pickers is likely to set an unwelcome example for other employers abroad.

However, it has been reported that after the social and political outrage over the acquittal of the four farmers by the Mixed Jury Appeals Court of Patras on the strawberry case, the prosecutor of the High Court of Greece asked to intervene considering the possible annulment of last week's decision. That may or may not be true, but the high-ups of the Greek judiciary must seriously look into the matter.

As far as our message is concerned, fruit and vegetable products from South Europe, like the strawberries from Greece, are destined mainly for export to North Europe and Eastern Europe, and that's where our expat Bangladeshis should avoid buying them. In a broader picture, similar stories of abuse of our immigrant workers have been reported from Italy and Spain too, where migrant workers are over-exploited unlawfully in tomato, orange and other vegetable farms. We earnestly want our embassies to seriously investigate into these alleged reports of mistreatment. The dreadful shooting that took place in Greece's Manolada cannot be defined as an isolated incident either as such cruel treatment of Bangladeshi workers does not make the headline news. It's just difficult to believe that such outrageous act of barbarity and racism had happened, and justice -- in the land of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle -- was denied.

The writer is Current Affairs Analyst, The Daily Star.
E-mail:shahriarferoze@gmail.com

Published: 12:00 am Friday, August 08, 2014

Last modified: 9:57 pm Thursday, August 07, 2014

TAGS: Bangladeshi workers Greek farmers Greece strawberry farm

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