The Guardian: Are western Europe’s food supplies worth more than east European workers’ health?

Extract from article published on The Guardian, 16 April 2020 – accessible here

White asparagus is late April’s delicacy across much of north-west Europe. In Germany the pale spears of the Spargel are cherished as “white gold”, their arrival each year marked by festivals and celebrations. But Germany alone needs 300,000 seasonal workers to harvest its crops. Over the past 10 years most of these workers have come from Romanian villages where seasonal migration is one of the few sources of income.

This spring, however, the asparagus harvest ran into a big problem: Romania’s militarised coronavirus lockdown, enforced by a state of emergency, with police and army patrols in the streets fining anyone caught out without a written statement from employers or doctors. People have been forced to accept a 10pm curfew.

And it seems to have worked to protect the Romanian health system from a tsunami of cases. Despite big numbers of Romanian migrant workers returning from Spain and Italy at the height of the pandemic in southern Europe, the rate of Covid-19 infection and death in Romania has remained broadly under control.

Until, that is, the imperatives of the asparagus supply chain kicked in. Pressed by German agriculture lobbies, the Berlin government asked the Romanian government to grant a bespoke exemption from the lockdown and clear an airbridge for farm workers.

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