“This series of environmental portraits of New York State farmworkers, shot by award-winning filmmaker/photographer U. Roberto Romano, aims simply to introduce New Yorkers to the people who cultivate our food. These are not nameless migrants; they are our neighbors as well as providers, and each plays an integral role in one of the most vital systems to human life: agriculture.”
- Leslie Hatfield (The Other Side of the Plate)
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“I believe that pictures show us the world as it really is, especially when what you are trying to show is unimaginable. We know the words “child,” “slave” and “carpet,” but images can distill their essence into an undeniable and powerful experience that cannot be ignored by the viewer.”
- U. Robeto Romano
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For the forgotten, whom we remember once a year…
If I were a poet, this would be my opening line, like A Bed for the Night or A Brief for the Defense or Elegy, but the poem would be darker and full of Bukowski-like heartache and disdain.
But I am not a poet. I am a filmmaker and photographer who has spent more than a decade of my life documenting child labor around the world. I have filmed and photographed and spoken with children who pick the coffee beans we brew on plantations in Kenya, weave the carpets we walk on at looms in India, Pakistan and Nepal, dig for gold while suffocating in mines or dive to their deaths from fishing boats in Ghana. Children who are trafficked to and from Mexico and Thailand at age 12 or 14, and pushed into hotels by middle-aged johns while still bearing the scars of their beatings from their pimps, children on fishing platforms miles off the coast of Indonesia where they are trapped for three months at a time hauling in nets filled with teri (a fish that is the main ingredient of those multi colored crackers we dip into sweet sauce at Chinese restaurants around the world), child soldiers in Uganda forced to burn their families alive or amputate the arms and legs their siblings, trafficked children on cocoa farms in the Ivory Coast who, far from home, bear the scars of the machetes they use so we can enjoy the sweet taste of chocolate. For me, child labor is, unfortunately, a target-rich environment. Even here in the United States of America there are hundreds of thousands of children planting and picking the fruits and vegetables that we eat.
Ten years ago, the ILO created World Day Against Child Labor, but for the 215 million children who work around the world, this day should be their day every day. And this should be the day where we also remember the 250,000 to 400,000 American children who are systematically exploited every year as they harvest the food that we eat.
They are there right now in our fields, working at far younger ages, for longer hours at exploitative wages and at greater risk to their health than any other children in America, because of a loophole in Federal law that permits children as young as 12, and sometimes younger, to work in 100-degree heat in a tomato field for 16 hours, but does not allow that same child to work in an air-conditioned office until she is 16. And that should not be so.
In December of 2000, President Bill Clinton signed ILO Convention 182, the Convention concerning the Prohibition and Immediate Action for the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labor. In June of 2000, Human Rights Watch issued its seminal report Fingers To The Bone: United States Failure To Protect Child Farmworkers. In 2001, Senator Tom Harkin re-introduced the CARE Bill (Children’s Act for Responsible Employment, which has been introduced every year since then, most recently by Representative Roybal-Allard), which would have brought us into compliance with Convention 182.
Yet in 2002 Len Morris and I documented numerous abuses of this convention in Texas while filming Stolen Childhoods, abuses that, sadly, continue to this day.
So while Senator Harkin points at Uzbek cotton and other crops and commodities as an example of the worst forms of child labor in a speech he gave before the Senate commemorating World Day Against Child Labor last year:
“The work performed by these children, stooped over to pick cotton under a hot sun, also falls under the category of hazardous work. Hazardous work is by its very nature likely to harm the health and safety of children. Hazardous work exposes children to physical, emotional, or even sexual abuse. It includes children working underground in mines, underwater, at dangerous heights, or in confined spaces. Children work with dangerous machinery, equipment, and tools. They may work in unhealthy environments, exposed to hazardous substances like nicotine in tobacco fields or to extreme temperatures, noise levels, or vibrations that can damage growing bodies. Some children are even forced to work such long hours that they are up for entire nights or are not allowed to return to their own home at the end of the day.”
The sad truth is we do little at home for our own children who work under similar conditions in our agricultural sector. The level of disconnect is stratospherically high.
Of the Eight Core ILO Conventions that most counties have signed onto, the United States has implemented only two and the Convention On The Rights of The Child, the most ratified Convention in the history of the ILO, has only three countries that haven’t ratified. Somalia and Southern Sudan are two of them. Sadly, we are the third.
While the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of International Labor Affairs lists 130 goods from 71 countries that should be banned under the TVPRA, I have personally documented and spoken to American children who have done the same work under the same conditions for 17 of those goods here in this country. Even a proposed set of safety regulations aimed at minimizing harm to children hired to work in the fields, that would have regulated the kind of hazardous labor described above by Senator Harkin, were withdrawn in a heartbreaking about-face, by the Department of Labor on April 26 of this year. These new rules would have updated the decades-old list of tasks considered hazardous and therefore off limits for hired farmworkers under age 16, but over 180 elected officials in Washington stood in opposition to the first changes in agricultural safety regulations for children in 40 years, recommendations that National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health made nearly a decade ago. They include Senators Jerry Moran of Kansas and Ben Nelson of Nebraska along with Representatives Mike Lee of Utah and Denny Rehberg of Montana. In what can only be considered a part of a stunning campaign of disinformation sponsored by the Farm Bureau, Senator Mike Lee of Utah sponsored the Saving the Family Farm Act of 2012. The family farm was never in danger.
Just as child labor was a sign of the social inequities of our Gilded Age, our child labor problem in agriculture exposes our own excesses. The failure of the Fair Labor Standards Act to protect children in agriculture has deep roots. Some say it was to protect the family farm (there is that term again), but when you look at history, you get closer to the heart of the truth when you understand that those who picked our crops then and now were the victims of racial and class exclusion. As Marjorie Elizabeth Wood pointed out in her excellent Op-Ed piece for the New York Times:
“This is not the first time reform of agricultural child labor laws has been beaten back by a supposed threat to the family farm. In the 1920s a proposed Child Labor Amendment to the Constitution was fiercely contested. The amendment would have given Congress power to regulate the labor of people under age 18. But by orchestrating a sophisticated campaign that included front groups with names such as Citizens’ Committee to Protect Our Homes and Children, business interests frightened farm families with propaganda about a government conspiracy to forbid chores on the family farm.”
In Fields of Peril, the 2010 report for Human Rights Watch, written by Zama Coursen-Neff and photographed by me, we again learned that agriculture is the most dangerous work open to children in the United States, where 12- to 16-year-olds—and on small farms children of any age—can be hired. These migrant and seasonal child farmworkers, who are at the heart of my recent documentary, The Harvest/La Cosecha, drop out of school at four times the national average, perpetuating a cycle of poverty and social failure. They suffer the same abuses that we do not tolerate anywhere else in the world.
So on this day where we acknowledge our commitment to eliminating the worst forms of child labor globally by 2016, the continued lack of support for the CARE Bill and this administration’s promise not to revisit the revised safety standards mean that the United States will continue to remain non-compliant, even though nearly 90% of Americans polled say that they would pay more for their food to in an effort to treat farmworkers better and end the cycle of poverty that continues to push our own children into the field.
Nelson Mandela once said “There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.”
What I have known for a decade is that where children in American agriculture are concerned, the soul of America is languishing.
My friend Jason Guest sent me Proverbs 31:8-9 in an e-mail last week. It instructs us to “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.”
On this day when we are asked to stand up for the children of the world, we need to ask ourselves: “where is our sense of grace when we say grace?” Let us remember and speak up for the American children who are sacrificing their futures so that we can eat.
“Romano’s documentary compels viewers to come to terms with the uncomfortable reality that in a country like the United States, where there is so much wealth, modern cities, and plentiful resources, many people still endure inequality and poverty.”
- Arturo Conde, North American Congress of the Americas
Click here to read the full review
“Knowing the farmer who grows your food has become an important tenet of the modern food movement, but precious little attention is paid to the people who actually pick the crops or “process” the chickens or fillet the fish. U Roberto Romano’s poignant film, The Harvest/La Cosecha (2011), being screened across the country for Farmworker Awareness Week (March 24-29), informs us that nearly 500,000 children as young as six harvest up to 25 percent of all crops in the United States.”
- Helene York, The Atlantic
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U. Roberto Romano will join a panel of the local food movement’s most influential thinkers, writers, and producers at this year’s Edible Institute – a two day event in Santa Barbara, California. The program includes special screenings of “The Dark Side of Chocolate” and “The Harvest/La Cosecha”.
Edible Institute takes place March 10-11, at Hotel Mar Monte, Santa Barbara, CA.
Click here to purchase tickets
“Today, child laborers are working on industrial farms since family farms no longer produce the majority of U.S. agricultural yield. These children, along with their families, comprise the 40 percent of industrial agriculture laborers that migrate as the harvest moves in order to maintain employment. This migratory lifestyle coupled with often meager pay creates a situation where parents have few childcare alternatives but to take the children with them to the fields.”
- Lesley Lammers, Triple Pundit
Click here to read the full review
On Friday, October 14, 2011, at Mills College in Oakland, CA, TEDxFruitvale brought together farmworkers, farmers, activists, artists, students, professors, filmmakers, and entrepreneurs to celebrate the people upon whom we depend to harvest our food. In three sessions, titled Meet, Movement, and Money, 18 speakers provided a 360-degree view of farmworkers today and throughout history; compared labor’s progress with other social justice movements; and ended by discussing fair labor practices from a business standpoint.
“THE HARVEST/LA COSECHA, a new documentary directed by the veteran photographer and human rights advocate U. Roberto Romano, shines a bright light on [a] murky corner of the agribusiness universe… Rather than wagging a finger, Romano lets the kids and the families speak for themselves. We see them cooking dinner, squabbling, dealing with the act of packing up and moving on for the millionth time. They then take to the road in stuffed, beat-up trucks, in pursuit of the next harvest.”
- Tom Philpott, MotherJones
Click here to read the full review
“It may be unthinkable that the chocolate we enjoy could come from the hands of children working as slaves. In Ivory Coast and other cocoa-producing countries, there are an estimated 100,000 children working the fields, many against their will, to create the chocolate delicacies enjoyed by Western countries.”
- Tricia Escobedo, CNN
Click here to read the full article at www.cnn.com
“THE HARVEST/LA COSECHA” received a Special Achievement Award at the 2011 NCLR ALMA awards.
The ALMA awards, broadcast on NBC on Friday September 16th, are a one-of-a-kind tribute to the spirit of pioneering Latinos in television, film, and music. It is an opportunity to applaud the incredible, enriching contributions that Latinos make to American culture and celebrate our country’s Hispanic heritage. Since 1995, the NCLR ALMA Awards has promoted fair, accurate, and representative portrayals of Latinos in entertainment.
Click here to watch Eva Longoria’s acceptance speech
The trailer for “THE HARVEST/LA COSECHA” is now available on iTunes!
“THE HARVEST/LA COSECHA” is the story of the children who work 12-14 hour days, 7 days a week to pick the food that we eat. These children are not toiling in the fields in some far away land. They are working here, in our back yard, in America.
Click here to view the iTunes trailer
“‘The Harvest/La Cosecha’ is a straightforward, intimate and heartbreaking chronicle of the 2009-10 farm seasons for three teens, smart and sensitive, who have been following the crops with their parents for as long as they can remember.”
- Sheri Linden, Los Angeles Times
Click here to read the full review at www.latimes.com
“From the cocoa plantations of the Ivory Coast to the textile factories of India, the prevalence of child labour in the world today is staggering…
But now a new film – The Harvest – documents the occurrence of this trend where few would expect to find it: the United States agricultural industry.”
- Rosie Spinks, The Ecologist
Click here to read the full review at www.theecologist.org
Silvio Martínez Puentes at multicultural newspaper The Prima discusses the brutal cost of child labor in the cocoa industry:
“Each fruit harvested on the Ivory Coast cacao plantations contains the tears of enslaved little girls and boys, the majority of whom have been brought there by smugglers.”
- Silvio Martínez Puentes, The Prisma
Click here to view the full article at www.theprisma.com
“Romano, an investigative filmmaker and photographer, introduced ‘The Harvest’ and fielded questions recently at the Instituto Cultural de México during the San Antonio Film Festival, where the film took home the Outstanding Filmmaker Award.”
- Aaron Jentzen, mySanAntonio
Click here to view the full article at www.mysanantonio.com
There’s not a wasted frame in U. Roberto Romano’s documentary The Harvest, in which he illustrates the real costs of the produce on your grocer’s shelves. Volatile political issues (immigration matters, the imploding economy) all play out in the day-to-day struggles faced by three Latino kids and their families as they criss-cross the country “chasing harvests.”
- Ernest Hardy, The Village Voice
Click here to view the full review at www.villagevoice.com
Every year there are more than 400,000 American children who are torn away from their friends, schools and homes to pick the food we all eat. Zulema, Perla and Victor labor as migrant farm workers, sacrificing their own childhoods to help their families survive. THE HARVEST/LA COSECHA profiles these three as they journey from the scorching heat of Texas’ onion fields to the winter snows of the Michigan apple orchards and back south to the humidity of Florida’s tomato fields to follow the harvest.
From the Producers of the Academy-Award® nominated film, WAR/DANCE, Acclaimed Filmmaker U Roberto Romano and Executive Producer Eva Longoria, this award-winning documentary provides an intimate glimpse into the lives of these children who struggle to dream while working 12 – 14 hours a day, 7 days a week to feed America.
Premieres July 29 at the Quad Cinema in New York City (34 West 13th St). Find show times and tickets at www.quadcinema.com
Starts August 5 in Los Angeles at Laemmle’s Music Hall (9036 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills) – www.laemmle.com.
“I applaud Eva Longoria, U. Roberto Romano and Shine Global for using the power of film to shine a light on the plight of child farmworkers.” – Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard (CA-34), author of the CARE Act (HR 2234)
If you are interested in bringing THE HARVEST/LA COSECHA to your community please contact email@example.com
“The media does not have sufficient resources to report occurrences with the required depth”, said renowned U.S. filmmaker, U. Roberto Romano on Monday 20 June at the Deutsche Welle Global Media Forum in Bonn.
Click here to view the full article at Deutsche Welle.
Watch U. Roberto Romano tell CNBC about the shocking reality of children working in the United States’ agricultural industry.
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CNN’s Richard Quest talks to filmmaker U Roberto Romano, whose documentary The Dark Side of Chocolate investigates child labor and cocoa fields in the Ivory Coast.
Click here to visit the CNN Freedom Project.