Across the Board

Asian Migrant worker ‘exploitation’ suit brought by U.S. gov’t

In the fine tradition of the bracero programs of the 1900’s (where laborers were yoked to their farm, paid substandard wages and forced to pay for food and shelter) and the Chinese migrant labor work programs of the 1860’s (replacement slaves because unlike newly freed African Americans, they had no rights to be concerned over), it turns out that exploitation of foreign workers is alive and well in America’s farms and shipyards.

On April 20, 2011 the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed two seperate charges of migrant worker exploitation. One against Global Horizons Inc., a large farm contractor and eight farms that contracted from them, for the exploitation of 200 male Thai farm laborers and the other against Signal International LLC for labor trafficking and discrimination against 500 Indian laborers.

THE CASE AGAINST GLOBAL HORIZONS INC.

Not only is Global Horizons in trouble, the eight farms that tacitly supported (and sometimes actively joined) the exploitation of the Thai laborers are as well. The farms were: Captain Cook Coffee Company, Del Monte Fresh Produce (least surprising!), Kauai Coffee Company, Kelena Farms, MacFarms of Hawaii, and Maui Pineapple Farms in Hawaii and Green Acre Farms and Valley Orchard Farms in Washington.

The abuses began at recruitment. In exchange for the promise of steady jobs and incomes, Global Horizons charged an “insurmountable fee” according to the EEOC, the lowest figure I have seen is $9,500 USD. The minute they arrived in the states their passports were confiscated and were threatened with deportation if they complained. When, if they were paid, they were paid little.

In some farms they were housed in rat and/or insect infested housing, and in some locations there would be no beds available. In one location workers were crammed into a storage container without indoor plumbing or air-conditioning. In some locations they were patrolled by guards. Almost all farms had abusive working conditions, ranging from segragation from other non-Thai employees (who appeared to be treated better), to verbal and physical abuse.

The EEOC is filing for damages and hopefully something comes of it; Global Horizons has apparently been implicated in schemes like this since 2004.

Welcome to farming industry, in the century when the world tips 90-10 urban to rural? 

THE CASE AGAINST SIGNAL INTERNATIONAL, LLC.

Signal International LLC., provides contract labor for marine shipyards- welding, etc. and the case revolves around the Mississippi and Texas branches. Human rights groups allege that the recent spate of devastating hurricanes have increased the exploitation of migrant labor in the area- as people rush to turn a profit.

The EEOC explicitly states that their treatment of the 500 Indian laborers they contracted, had a definite component of racism-unlike the Global Horizons case although I suspect that charge will crop up eventually. The conditions the company put these men through are horrific: 

1. Only the Indian laborers were kept in “man camps”, enclosed in fences- locations which were “intolerable, demeaning, and unsanitary” according to the EEOC. Alledgedly they were kept 24 to a room. (By the by, it is not illegal, in and of itself, to set up labor camps- for kicks you should see the U.S. Department of Labors’ official guidelines.)

2. Indian laborers were asked to pay over $30.00 daily for housing and food- which when you are making (maybe) $8 an hour is utterly ridiculous. Plus each of these men would have paid around $20,000 USD as a recruitment fee- for which they were allegedly promised green cards and received instead temporary work visas.

3. This, to me, is the height of depravity: each of the men were issued numbers and were referred to by their number instead of their name.   

So far the cases are just beginning, as the EEOC prepares to find witnesses and perhaps other workers who managed to repay their recruitment fee and leave the country. Some of these workers will be granted visas based on their treatment; but not all. 

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