Trapped Within Borders: Exploitation of Migrant Seasonal Workers in German Agriculture During COVID-19 Lockdown; Placing the Actors and Understanding Their Roles




exploitation, fraud, working conditions, difficult-to-reach groups, routine activities theory


While European borders were closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Europe witnessed the exodus of Romanian seasonal workers to Germany. Although both countries’ governments agreed to allow this under the condition of the strictest adherence to the sanitary restrictions and workers’ rights, soon after, the media began to report situations of non-adherence to the coronavirus-related measures and workers’ labor rights. Following the theoretical framework of the Routine Activities Approach and its updates, this case study combines the collection of press material (N=140), Facebook posts (N=93), and interviews with seasonal workers in agriculture (N=5) and identifies the exploitative behaviors and actors involved. The results suggest that the perpetrators of these behaviors were certain intermediaries as well as farmers. The seasonal workers most at-risk were those with poor literacy who had not mastered the German language, were financially precarious, and were unwilling to seek the authorities’ help. The spaces in which the exploitation occurred were cyberspace or isolated rural farms. Seven guardians and seven super-controllers played a considerable role in protecting the workers on the farms, but not during the recruitment process. Situational prevention techniques, such as the creation of a mobile application to inform workers of their rights and allow them to report violations remotely, and collaboration with online platform services to flag fraudulent job advertisements automatically are proposed.