After exhausting all attempts to get Azura to listen to his complaint of unfair dismissal and reverse its decision, Abdellah began his sit-in protest outside their office on 18 September. Abdellah worked at one of 47 tomato greenhouse farms owned by Azura Group in Agadir, Morocco. The company is one of the largest exporters of tomatoes in the country, exporting mainly to the EU and UK markets, particularly during the winter season. Azura Group has an important logistic platform in the UK, supplying retailers in Europe and British supermarkets.
In the last 20 years, the workers employed by Azura have risen up and unionised against poor working conditions and the denial of their rights. The corporation has refused to negotiate with the union. Instead, it responded with provocations and dismissals.
Maraissa 9 farm, where Abdellah worked, is one of 47 tomato greenhouse farms (covering 986 hectares) operated by Azura Group in Morocco, mainly in the Agadir region. The group exported 120,000 tons of tomatoes during the 2019-20 season (about a quarter of all Morocco's tomato exports), earning 304 million euros.
The tomato sector of Azura Group employs 14,168 people. Of them, 33% have open-ended contracts. Women make up 38% of permanent employees and 32% of seasonal workers. The Azura Group – through their annual sustainability report – boasts about respecting the labour code, paying more than minimum salaries, and guaranteeing the right to unionise. However, the reality and history of the company in the Agadir region shows us a different story.
Since the mid-2000s, Azura has seen an expansion of union membership against poor working conditions and the denial of rights. Struggles broke out in 2007, 2008 and 2009. The company's management responded with provocations and dismissals and refused to open negotiations on the demands. It expelled five members of the trade union office at Maraissa 9 farm, the general secretary of Maraissa 10 farm, 20 trade unionists at Maraissa 15 farm, members of the trade union office at Maraissa 17 farm, and workers at the packing station who tried to set up a trade union office. The Azura Group also used Article 288 of the Penal Code to prosecute six trade unionists at the Maraissa 15 farm for obstructing freedom of work in order to break up their struggles, and they introduced a private security company to the farms to increase pressure on the unionists. In April 2014, the company expelled another 15 trade unionists from the Maraissa 9 farm, including two members of the trade union bureau.
Azura is one of the large agricultural export companies that benefit from public subsidies and tax breaks at a time when Morocco's food dependency is increasing sharply. These large private companies have developed at the expense of small farmers who have been forced to abandon their land because of structural adjustment policies since the early 1980s, but also at the expense of farm workers with low wages and widespread flexibility.
The agricultural workers of the Azura Group have made enormous sacrifices for almost 20 years to defend the right to organise. The sit-in of Abdellah Beibeh is a continuation of these battles. A few metres away from him there is another sit-in of a worker at the Maraissa 35 farm who was also expelled after working for 12 years at the company because he claimed his right to compensation for a work accident, which caused a 60% disability confirmed by doctors' certificates.