In Portugal, workers from south Asia pick the berries that fill European supermarket shelves. It’s a back-breaking job – with pay under four euros an hour, and ten-hour days. The incentive? The hope of an EU passport.
It’s not easy to find workers in Portugal’s berry-growing region. So the government decided to make the prospect more appealing — with the promise of citizenship after seven years. It’s a hope that’s brought some 20,000 foreign workers to the country’s berry plantations. One is Gian Pall, from India. He’s been picking berries in Portugal for five years and has had to watch his son grow up on WhatsApp. But he says that an EU passport, which will give him easy access to 186 countries, will be worth the sacrifice. He dreams of having his wife and child join him in Portugal – a country he hopes will be the springboard to the rest of the world. But for many workers like Gian Pall, the difficulties they face start long before the berry picking begins. Many pay up to 16,000 euros to recruiting agencies to obtain a tourist visa. Often it’s the trafficking mafia that puts up the cash. Once in Portugal, the foreign laborers have to work off their debt.
The Portuguese government relies on the foreign harvest workers. But has it created a system of modern slavery in the middle of Europe to get them?