Why People Keep Moving to Become Cheap Labor

  The meaning and the application of the word “migrant” holds a lot of questions when one is not aware of the context or the history of their country of...
(Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)


The meaning and the application of the word “migrant” holds a lot of questions when one is not aware of the context or the history of their country of origin; even the migrants who arrive carry a heavy psychological burden. Referred to as Human mobility, it consists in the movement of one person from his home country to another place.[1]

In the case of Guatemala, located south of México, undocumented migrants often travel with the help of third party services of smugglers, often referred to as ‘Coyotes’, who smuggle them illegally across the borders in exchange for money. They evade the security measures between borders and face high risks both for their health and security.

Pedro’s Story:

Pedro is a Guatemalan immigrant who traveled to the United States leaving his family and paying the journey with a loan from a broker, giving his land deeds as a guarantee. He finally reached his destination and found a job in one of the farms of Monsanto, known for hiring undocumented workers. After three weeks of hard work, on pay day, an operation from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) resulted in his deportation and that of many other undocumented workers working there. Right now he lives in Guatemala and is trying to recover his land from the moneylender, as his deportation prevented him from paying any fee.

Unfortunately, Pedro is one of many and this story has been experienced by many migrants in search of the so-called “American Dream”. They travel from their country of origin (usually south) to the destination country (usually north), searching for better economic, political and social conditions for themselves and their families.

This scenario brings to one question: is there any other factor that urges people move from one place to another? The answer is yes.

The Problem of Cheap Labor:

For some companies, economic development for a country can also mean the necessity of cheap and unqualified working force. In the case of the United States, the local population mostly works in qualified jobs, with no manual labor with decent payment whilst immigrants often live and work with no insurance or guarantees and a very low pay. The Monsanto Company, the protagonist of many scandals -including child labor-, is exemplary in their exploitation of migrant workers. However, there are many more places where cheap labor is in high demand.

This has contributed to the increase in migration in the last years, and presents a main culprit to the human rights abuses that these people face when exploited by big companies.

Unfortunately, the inequality in the labor market is not an impediment for the increasing working flux to United States from Guatemala and other countries. Despite the bad pay and the lack of security, the economic benefits of working in US are superior to the wage they would get in their country of origin.

The problem of the cheap labor force also persists because the Guatemalan government tries to take advantage of its people in the US, whose hard work becomes a political and economic boost for the country. In fact, remittances make 11% of the GDP in the Guatemala.

Ironically, people leave the country because of internal problems and to find new opportunities, and end up helping to solve the problems they have escaped from.

The hosting countries should make much clearer and stricter laws on cheap labor, holding companies such as Monsanto responsible for exploiting these people in their soil.

Micro Economies: A new solution?

Knowing the consequences of cheap and unqualified labor, the best and most obvious solution to offer is to boost local economic development in order to stop the people from seeking better economic opportunities. But how can that be done?

It is fundamental to allow people to be able to create an economic space for themselves locally, to invest and seek new opportunities.

Shifting the economic boost from the cities to the rural communities can be a good start. Rather than spending money to pay coyotes, people can create small stores and services to produce and consume local products and boost the local economy.

Another interesting alternative, already tried in Mexico, could be to create micro economies using their own alternative local currency. The aim in this case was to urge merchants to accept payment in a combination of pesos and the local alternative currency, which would spur more spending. In this case, the legality and recognition of such currencies in the country is fundamental to move forward.

Undoubtedly, this needs cooperation with development professionals, who should prioritize on boosting the local economies in their work. Collaborating with local businesses and the private sector to do this could also be a successful approach to economic development.

The results will help to cover the basic needs of the communities and the chance to generate jobs, trade market and better opportunities to cover all the needs unattended by the governments.

[1] When selecting a theme is important to distinguish different forms of movement and migration, globally many more people move within the borders than across them. UNDP, “Mobility and Migration” (United Nations Development Program Human Development Report Office, 2010), 3.


Human Rights
Alejandro Acajabon

International Affairs professional, lover of italian and japanese food, learning and working Migration and Human Rights, trying to solve international problems from the local perspective. Just another guatemalan after all.
No Comment

Leave a Reply



This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.