Running Head: ETHICAL THEORIES A BOUT MIGRANT WORKERS 1
The Sacrifices that the M igrant Workers Have Ma de in the Un ited States
Chi Yu an Wu
California State Polytechnic University, Pomona
Professor Dorothy M. Farias
AG 401 0 – 10
Topic Paper #1
October 1 3 , 201 8
Running Head: ETHICAL THEORIES A BOUT MIGRANT WORKERS 2
In t oday ‘ s so ciety, most of the people want to buy the ir food a t a more affordable pri ce.
However, this behavior can uninte n ti on ally lo wer farm work er s wages and worsen their living
con ditions. In these three films : The Harvest/La Cosecha (2011) , Harvest of Shame (1960) , and
Harvest of Dignity (2012) , they discuss the unethic al usage of labor from The Great Migration to
contemporary American society and d ocument the difficulties of the ir lives on a daily ba sis.
While the majority of the United States encourages their children to dream big and is supportive
of the decisions of younger generations, children of migrant workers are working hard in the
fields losing sight of their dreams and hopes. In this essay, I will be analyzing four ethical
theories including Consequentialism, Cultural Relativism, Ethical Egoism, and Social Contract
Theory . m igrant worker’s lives are carefully examined and considered in light of what is truly
justifiable as morale and what is and could actually be bearable.
From p arent s ‘ p oint of view, they are willing to provide the best resources for their
children. However , in the case of the migrant farm workers, anyone capable of physical labor
even including their children are pushed into working as a child labor in or der to earn more
m oney . Under the Ethical Theory of Consequentialism, these children of migrant workers
working on t he field have to battle betw een receiving an e duc ation and earning extra income for
their family . Consequentialism holds that the consequence and outcome of one’s conduct is the
sole indicator of what is morally right (Mastin, 2008). I t may be justifiable for parents to take
their kids from the classroom to the fields because they need th em to loosen the fi nancial b urden .
Running Head: ETHICAL THEORIES A BOUT MIGRANT WORKERS 3
Although Consequentialist theory justifies the need for children as field workers over
classr oom achievers, there has been changes in children’s lives after wat chin g both of these
films: Harvest of Shame (1960) and Harvest of Dignity (2012). In Harvest of Shame, Edward R.
Murrow mentions that children are left while their parent s are working throughout t he day
(1960). He also shows clips about the perception on summer school kids from t eachers , how they
are not optimistic about how certain children will advance in respective to their living conditions.
In 1960, Consequentialist theory supports that education was no t prioritized for children of
migrant workers because it was even difficult for them to feed these children. In 2011, the fil m
called ” Harvest of Dignity ” mentions some support programs for migrant children and possess a
more positive attitude for their balance b etween work and s chool. The outcome that a child can
do well in school while contributing labor in the field and income for the ir family supports the
positive change since the publication of the fi lm called Harvest of Shame.
Cultural Relativism states that good and bad are relative to culture, in that these actions
are not absolute but rather different (Farias, Cultural Relativism, p. 2). This ethical theory
justi fies the mistreatment of migrant workers because t hey agreed to these conditions so that th ey
can provide labor in e xchange of a paycheck . The migrant workers of today, as shown in Harvest
of Dignity, are exposed to the similar terrible working conditions as their 1960 ‘ s counte rparts .
The reason is that either this way of life is better than that of how it was before, or workers feel
they belong in that specific farming culture (Campbell, 2012). Note how in Harvest of Shame,
Murrow repeatedly ask migrant workers in the interviews if th ey ever feel as though they can get
out of this lifestyle (1960). Surprising ly , m ost of the workers say no as if they are part of this
Running Head: ETHICAL THEORIES A BOUT MIGRANT WORKERS 4
farming culture. It is unfortunate that the press interprets the farmers believe these migrant
workers are willing to accept these poor conditions, in that they are better off with these jobs.
Over the past few dec ad es, t he society wa s limited to significant changes. The i ssue of
terrible living and working con ditions still exist . Repeatedly today, there is one toilet for eve ry
ten workers, in addition to sewage problems that even children are exposed to. Migrant farm
workers that c ome from Mexico do not have many legal or moral protection because of cultural
relativism, which holds that moral principles are dependent on culture and individual choices
(Farias, Cultural Relativism, p. 3). With that being sai d , it is acceptable for the farmers to
provide such poor – quality living spaces and lack of sanitation to Mexican migrant workers under
the condition . Due t o limited amount of choices , they are granted relatively better lives through
these job opportunities. The intervi ewer called Guernina in the f ilm Harvest of Dignity (2012 )
mentions that her life is muc h better in the United States . Her perception is based on the cultural
upbringing that she had . This ethical condition of relativism also places prejudice towards
perceptions of the se workers, as Ingrid, an adopted girl in Guernina’s home, mentions that they
are not treated as a human being. F or example, she mentions that dogs are treated better because
workers are not provided with beds. It’s interesting to note that the younger generation, who has
partially adopted the U.S culture, who has access to see the other student’s privileges, can note
the terrible conditions in contrast to the perspective from Guernina .
In gen eral, ch ildren who are agricultural labor s in the US are mostl y from the cultural
groups that lives in poverty and have l imited access to education. In reality, it can be difficult to
report children in these circumstances, which limit s the opportunities for protection. It is
important to create a law to p rotect these labors who are not familiar w ith the legal s ystem in US .
Cultural and ethic al relativism theories b ring out the lack of protection because these children
Running Head: ETHICAL THEORIES A BOUT MIGRANT WORKERS 5
and their parents choose to place them in the fields. The children who provide income to families
by working in the fi elds have to no othe r op tions because they have been born into this social
status . Both Har vest of Shame (1960) and Harvest of Dignity (2012), largely cover the issue of
children labors and some pro blems that ar e in fi eld of cultural relativism . Furthermore, most state
agriculture law ignores the rightness of chi ldren being a farm work er : children as young as ten
can work thirty hours a week even today w as me n t i on e d the in the documentary ( Harvest of
Now adays, a gri business is very price sensitive because of the pressure from customers
and farm workers . Since there are so many competitors and suppliers, it drives the prices down.
If one farmer decides to pay migrant farm workers the right salary, he will be swallowed by other
famers who are competing ag ainst him in ter ms of wages . Under the the o r y of Ethical Egoism,
farmers will be able to overlook the morality of their workers and their living condition s in or der
t o achieve the success of their own farming business. Ethical Egoism states that human bei ng
act s out of self – interest because it is the best interest for the public in the long run (Farias, Ethical
Egoism, p. 12). In a journ al arti cle called ” G ambling on Gra pes, ” the auth or mentions the
fa rmers under paid their workers so mu ch that their workers decide d to st rike and protest in fr ont
of a winery in Napa Valley. Therefore, for a farmer, regardless of benefiting the worker’s
conditio ns, their priority goes to maximizing profit and harvest.
Unfortunately, as a human being , no one deserves to live in the conditions that most of
the migrant workers live in. These workers left their country to find a better living situation for
their family but corruption in the agricultural business got many of the families stuck in a loop of
chasing me als. The Harvest (2011), mentions that more than 300,000 farm workers suffer from
Running Head: ETHICAL THEORIES A BOUT MIGRANT WORKERS 6
health concerns , such as pesticide poison ing every year and that the average farm migrating
family in the United States makes $17,500 which is under the poverty line of $24,000. These
farm working families are not able to get food stamps, welfare and can’t even benefit from the
food banks du e to their le ga l status . It is unfair to deny services such as healthcare and social
services working within the walls of the United States. Overall, the Ethical Egoism the ory does
not justify the inhumane conditions o f the migrant worker environment.
Social Contract Theory
The Social Contract Theory states that social goods require the social cooperation of
social goods, such as farming, industry, education, housing, and technology (Farias, Social
Contract Theory, p. 1). One t he Harvest of D ignity website , it provides an extensive list of
resources that shares stories and statistics that helps people who are experienc ing similar
probl ems as a gu ideline to f ollow . In terms of Social Contract Theory, the government and
authority in U nited Sates are healing to the rig ht directions of enforcing soci al ethics and
obligations for migrant workers . For e xamp le, p ublic education, taxes, and awareness are all
tools to improve the lives of migrant workers in the Social Contract Theory. Individuals who has
the p ower to bring awarenes s t o the public , such as producers Edward R. Murrow of Harvest of
Shame (1960), Donna Campbell of Harvest of Dignity (2012), and U.R. Romano of The Harvest
(2011) facilitate people to willingly get the government ‘ s atte nt ion . It is idealistic but hopeful to
have a farm labor system that is ethical in all areas, such as business, human rights, and labor. To
put this in to practice , a lot of time and money will have to be sacrificed to enforce policies, to
build li vable habitats, and ensure profitable and ethical business conditions.
Running Head: ETHICAL THEORIES A BOUT MIGRANT WORKERS 7
From the past to t he pre sent, migrant workers have suffered from many ethical issues in
th e field of agribusiness . After going through some strikes and protests , m ost of the migrant
farmers have gaine d some fin ancial support s from t he public. Most importantly , the ir children
are able to receive better educa tion s and work their way up to have better l iving cond i tions.
Overall, the sacrifice s that the migr ant workers made from the past have helped the ir children to
g et a ci tizenship in America and eliminate d the risk of being deported back to Mexico du e to t he
l egal sta tus.
Running Head: ETHICAL THEORIES A BOUT MIGRANT WORKERS 8
Campbell, D. (Producer). (2012, August 16). Harvest of Dignity Video. A Minnow Media
Production. Received from http://video.unctv.org/video/2268914359/
Farias, D. M. (2013). Cultural Relativism_Bb Notes Powerpoint Slides.
Farias, D. M. (2013). Ethical Egoism_Bb Notes Powerpoint Slides.
Farias, D. M. (2013). Social Contract Theory_Labor Issues Bb Notes Powerpoint Slides.
(2016). Harvest of Dignity: Resources Web post. Retrieved from
Mastin, L. (2008). The Basics of Philosophy: Consequentialism Web log post. Retrieved from
Murrow, E. R. (Journalist), & Friendly, F. W. (Director). (1960, November 25). Harvest of
Shame CBS Reports. David Lowe (Producer). USA: CBS.
Lamoree, E. (2012). Gambling on Grapes: Management, Marketing, and Labor in California
Agribusiness. Agricultural History, 86 (3), 104 – 127. doi:10.3098/ah.2012.86.3.104
Romano, U. R. (Producer), & O’Connor, R. (Producer), ; Longoria, E. (Producer), ; Romano,
U. R. (Director). (2011). The Harvest: La Cosecha Motion picture. United States:
Cinema Libre Studio.