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A tale of modern day slavery
August 11, 2004 5:02 AM   Subscribe

Slavery is not just the shameful stuff of history books - not in Florida. Last year, 7 journalists spent 9 months in a behind-the-scenes exploration of the state's immigrant workers. In more than 30 articles and photo essays, they revealed a system where workers are threatened, beaten, locked up, injured, forced into prostitution, and trapped in a spiral of debt and abuse. Powerful forces are arrayed against them in a state where agricultural laws are shaped by politician-farmers who have a vested interest in the status quo. - more -
posted by madamjujujive (28 comments total)

 
The jobs that lure Mexican workers to the U.S. are killing them.
Some statistics from this report:
- Mexicans now represent about 1 in 24 workers in the United States, but about 1 in 14 workplace deaths.
- Mexican death rates are rising even as the U.S. workplace grows safer overall. In the mid-1990s, Mexicans were about 30 percent more likely to die than native-born workers; now they are about 80 percent more likely.
- In the bloc of states from Louisiana to Maryland, the Mexican death rate averaged about 1 in 6,200 workers - four times that of native-born workers.
- Mexicans are nearly twice as likely as the rest of the immigrant population to die at work.

posted by madamjujujive at 5:03 AM on August 11, 2004


Lord Jeb! Bush and Dame Katherine Harris will not like hearing this from some uppity Palm Beach newspaper. How dare they question the treatment of their serfs!

Mr. Fabulous South Beach Drudge and Mr. Oxycontin Palm Beach Rush are sure to be all over this story seeing as it is happening in their own back yards.

[/:-)]
posted by nofundy at 5:51 AM on August 11, 2004


That website really went to town on the presentation of this, didn't they. As they should, of course.
posted by orange swan at 6:46 AM on August 11, 2004


I should clarify that this is not a *new* story - it appeared in December. But because of the extent of the reportage, and because it is an ongoing situation, I thought it still merited a post.
posted by madamjujujive at 6:56 AM on August 11, 2004


The New Yorker blew this story open in April of 2003. In response to that, I wrote Florida's Natural (self link), who would not deny their use of slaves in picking fruit. Organic Valley, however, did (again with the self-link). Organic Valley costs twice as much, but I just can't justify buying juice that's cheaper because it's made by slaves.
posted by waldo at 7:43 AM on August 11, 2004


Great post, mjjj. Inspired by Dying to Leave, an episode of the PBS show Wide Angle, I dug up some info of my own the other day. Full post is on my blog, but here are some highlights:

From the Human Trafficking FAQ:
Q: How many people are trafficked?

A: It is impossible to know and statistics are difficult to obtain because trafficking is an underground activity. A US Government report published in 2004, estimates that 600,000-800,000 people worldwide are trafficked across borders each year. This figure does not include those who are trafficked internally.

Q: Are trafficking and smuggling the same?

A: No. Trafficking and smuggling are not the same. Human trafficking involves deceiving or coercing someone to move -- either within a country or abroad through legal or illegal channels -- for the purpose of exploiting him or her.

Smuggling is assisting someone for a fee to cross a border illegally.

From the UN: Trafficking in human beings is not confined to the sex industry. Children are trafficked to work in sweatshops as bonded labour and men work illegally in the "three D-jobs" – dirty, difficult and dangerous. A recent CIA report estimated that between 45,000 to 50,000 women and children are brought to the United States every year under false pretenses and are forced to work as prostitutes, abused labourers or servants.

From Colin Powell's recently (June) released report entitled Trafficking in Persons:
As of April 2004, the Criminal Section of the Civil Rights Division had 153 open trafficking investigations – twice as many as compared with three years earlier. Over one-half of these investigations were initiated as a result of the "Trafficking in Persons and Worker Exploitation Task Force Complaint Line," 1-888-428-7581, established in February 2000. In fiscal years 2001 through 2003, the Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division and US Attorneys Offices initiated prosecutions of 110 traffickers, nearly a three-fold increase compared to the previous three fiscal years. In fiscal years 2001 through 2003, the Department of Justice secured 77 convictions and guilty pleas, a 50 percent increase over the previous three years.
Thanks again, mjjj.
posted by Ufez Jones at 8:07 AM on August 11, 2004


crap. thanks for the link. and thanks, too, waldo for those letters. Florida's Natural is also my favorite, and will now have to give Organic Valley a try.
posted by evening at 8:51 AM on August 11, 2004


I must be hopelessly cynical, but does this sort of news on immigrant abuse surprise anyone?
posted by Peter H at 8:55 AM on August 11, 2004


News on immigrant abuse doesn't surprise me, but the magnitude does. If I lived someplace where that type of farming was prevalent I probably wouldn't be suprised by the magnitude either. I don't though, so my idea of farming is wheat or corn or cows where, at least in the midwest, immigrant labour isn't exploited (as far as I know).
posted by substrate at 9:35 AM on August 11, 2004


does this sort of news on immigrant abuse surprise anyone?

well, yeah. this *is* the land of the free, right?

anyone?
posted by quonsar at 9:37 AM on August 11, 2004


I must be hopelessly cynical, but does this sort of news on immigrant abuse surprise anyone?

Not in the least, but I still find it disgraceful that in the 21st Century in the richest and most powerful country in the world, we have failed to enforce the protection of the single most fundamental freedom that humans have.
posted by Ufez Jones at 10:15 AM on August 11, 2004


well, yeah. this *is* the land of the free, right?

Actually, it's Florida. And nothing about that state surprises me, anymore.
posted by jonmc at 10:17 AM on August 11, 2004


Isn't there a similar situation in California, with strawberries?
posted by inpHilltr8r at 10:35 AM on August 11, 2004


It's not really like slavery, because technically they can leave, but they'd have nothing to sustain them. More like the position slaves were in after the abolition.
posted by abcde at 10:36 AM on August 11, 2004


Yes, but are they still better off than wherever they came from?

If not, then go back. If so, then they can't complain too much. They're not supposed to be here in the first place..

Keep in mind, before you comment negatively, that if it were at all possible, 70% of the world would immigrate to the US.
posted by eas98 at 10:43 AM on August 11, 2004


abcde, in the show called Dying to Leave that I posted about above, there was a man from Mexico that had been passed around by several "coyotes" and wound up on a tomato farm in Florida. He and his coworkers were locked up in their bunkhouse, taken to the farm, forced to pick, and then locked back up at the end of the day. He and several of his coworkers tried to escape several times only to be caught and taken back, often after being punished.

Nowadays they may be held under the auspices of "paying off a debt", but that debt is often in the tens of thousands of dollars and they make far below minimum wage, if anything. They're "charged" exhorbitant amounts for lodging and food. How is this not slavery?
posted by Ufez Jones at 10:45 AM on August 11, 2004



Yes, but are they still better off than wherever they came from?

If not, then go back. If so, then they can't complain too much. They're not supposed to be here in the first place..

Keep in mind, before you comment negatively, that if it were at all possible, 70% of the world would immigrate to the US.


There's the American attitude for ya: hey, this is marginally better than your terrible existence would be somewhere else, so shut the fuck up and work!
posted by The God Complex at 10:47 AM on August 11, 2004


See also: Jacob Holdt.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 10:50 AM on August 11, 2004


Keep in mind, before you comment negatively, that if it were at all possible, 70% of the world would immigrate to the US.

That number would decrease at least somewhat, if they knew about stuff like this. I'm not implying that this is what awaits every or even most immigrants, but when atrocities exist, let's acknowledge them and try to combat them rather than rationalize.

I feel a whole lot better about my country when it tries to live up to what it says it's about.
posted by jonmc at 11:07 AM on August 11, 2004


There's the American attitude for ya

Well, no, there's one American's attitude for ya. It might even be representative of a substantial plurality. But it's not the American attitude.

If this were on the news every day instead of the latest in the Kobe case, it would stop. Eventually.

/obvious but necessary.
posted by callmejay at 11:33 AM on August 11, 2004


Immigrants are incredibly vulnerable to predatory scum ... reminds me of the brilliant film Dirty Pretty Things, with Audrey Tautou ... a horror film of sorts.
posted by Shane at 11:37 AM on August 11, 2004


Keep in mind, before you comment negatively, that if it were at all possible, 70% of the world would immigrate to the US.

Aw, people can come up with statistics to prove anything, Kent. Fourteen percent of all people know that.
posted by alphanerd at 11:47 AM on August 11, 2004


Yes, but are they still better off than wherever they came from?

If not, then go back. If so, then they can't complain too much. They're not supposed to be here in the first place..


Like Ufez said, they're frequently held "in debt" to their captors/bosses. There are several reasons why the immigrants can't leave the worst of the situations:

* They're in an unfamiliar country where they most likely can't even speak the predominant language enough to figure out how to get home

* The person holding the debt over them either has connections to the immigrant's hometown, or knows someone who does. This results in threats against the immigrant's family

* The threat of death for escape attempts

So yeah, they have every right to complain. Especially since they do the jobs that you don't want to do.
posted by cmonkey at 11:54 AM on August 11, 2004


Yes, but are they still better off than wherever they came from? If not, then go back.

Don't speak too quickly there, eas98. If that happened, you would have to pay a bit more for your shirts and fruit. And we know that cheap shirts and fruit is far more important to you than safe working conditions and fair wages.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:54 AM on August 11, 2004


I was actually very surprised that the Human Trafficking issue didn't get mentioned here in the Blue when the Justice Department had their convention concerning it here in Florida last month. The brothers Bush and Ashcroft were all there to commit to doing everything they could to squelch modern day slavery.

I worked with the production company which did all of the staging and AV.

Some interesting notes from the Convention:
1) Human trafficking is bad, m'kay?!

2) We now have a bunch of legislation to make it easier to try people who are engaging in "modern day slavery".

3) This legislation is broad enough to allow traffickers to be apprehended based on criteria such as if they've insulted the victim enough.

4) I stood within 100 feet of Dubya and Jeb!, as well as within spitting distance of the press corps. I was one person away from the White House AV guy who had control over THE PODIUM's microphones. While I was allowed to pull out THE PODIUM's foot step, I was MOST DEFINITELY NOT ALLOWED to look inside of the inviting door.

5) GW mispronounced the word "human" no less than four times. Seriously.

6) I'm gladdened that the justice system is concerning itself so heavily with the sale and slavery of humans in this modern time, but the legislation is really broad. So broad, in fact, that I could probably point the feds at my boss and have a fighting chance at getting restitution. Apparently even paying a fair wage is not enough to prevent this slavery thing.

7) Cuba has "...the cleanest and most educated prostitutes in the world...", says Fidel Castro, as quoted by GW.

8) The purple thing behind the brothers here is held together with 2x4's and staples. I screwed most of it together, as well as coming up with a quick way of stretching it after we hung it. I also hung the safeties from the truss. If it weren't for my handiwork, that monstrosity could have come down square on POTUS's head, at which point he would have blinked, and started the speech over.

9) At every event where any standing President speaks, the main camera platform is a three-foot high box, filled mostly with sand, and then filled with 8" of CONCRETE. This stand is broken up with a sledgehammer after the speech. The major news networks have a raffle to determine who gets the platform.



My levity aside, I think that the practice is horrible, and I'm glad that the Federal government is attempting to consolidate the laws regarding this offense.

One of the major positives of the laws now is that they don't simply deport the victims now, like they used to - they attempt to get them real paperwork. Since most of these folks are coming from countries which have very corrupt governments, a frequent tactic of the abductor is to suggest to the victim that if they run away they'll be thrown in jail or worse, because they are in the country illegally.
posted by tomierna at 12:57 PM on August 11, 2004


Newer immigrants don't seem to have the aversion to using slaves that the earlier immigrants have come to have. And these stories always seem to involve newer immigrants as the slavers.
posted by HTuttle at 4:34 PM on August 11, 2004


Uh-huh. What conclusions from that observation?
posted by five fresh fish at 5:04 PM on August 11, 2004


Probably that it's the less assimilated people that do that stuff, hence it's a foreign problem that tends to linger in immigrant populations.
posted by abcde at 9:30 PM on August 11, 2004


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