Human Trafficking in the U.S.

While the majority of the Response to Trafficking in Persons in the Americas conference focused on international human trafficking, there was a great presentation this afternoon on trafficking in the United States.

Brigitte Gynther of Interfaith Action of Southwest Florida talked about her work to end exploitive labor practices of workers in Florida tomato fields.

Owners of massive tomato fields hire subcontractors to take care of finding fieldworkers, and these subcontractors pick out the most able-bodied laborers each morning around 4:30 from gathering places. Conditions in the fields can be brutal even for practices that are technically legal, but there are three ways she has seen people move from unfair treatment to being actual victims of trafficking in farm labor camps:

1 – Workers will pay a coyote (smuggler) to help with the border crossing, but then the coyote will turn around and sell that person to a contractor for a going rate of $1,000 to $3,000 per person.

2 – U.S. citizens and African Americans recruited from homeless shelters, and labor contractors will intentionally select people with previous substance abuse problems. The enslavement happens when the subcontractor distributes cocaine or other substances after work each night, and when the worker goes to get his or her check at the end of the week, the subcontractor will say that the worker actually owes money for the cost of the drugs. Ironically, upon prosecution, these cases often draw longer prison sentences for the drug charges – in the United States, traffickers of drugs face stiffer penalties than traffickers of human beings.

3 – Regular farm workers may work regularly for low wages, but then one day they may not be allowed to leave the labor camp. At that point the worker becomes a victim of trafficking.

Three steps to address labor exploitation, trafficking and slavery in Florida tomato fields:

1 – Education with the farm worker community to talk about rights and fair labor practices.

2 – Training for law enforcement on how to recognize trafficking and labor situations. In one example relayed by Gynther, police had been called to investigate shots in a labor camp and they didn’t recognize the slavelike conditions.

3 – National Campaign for Fair Food. One of the contributors to exploitation is the practice of large purchasers negotiating for artificially cheap tomatoes. The only way producers can meet those low prices is to underpay workers. This campaign, with buy-in from partners, including parishes, demands that buyers pay 1 cent extra per pound (which almost doubles the wages of laborers) and enforce a code of conduct for human rights in the field.

– Jennifer Hardy, CRS communications coordinator

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One Response to “Human Trafficking in the U.S.”

  1. Human Trafficking in the USA Says:

    […] year. I have been meaning to post about human trafficking in the United States for a while, but it is so […]

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