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Organized labor, modern day slavery, and fast food

by aden Thu Aug 10th, 2006 at 05:28:02 PM EST

"Labor trafficking is so preventable in this country [US]. That's why it's all the more outrageous that it's still existing. Because there is actually a solution, it is very clear. To end slavery, to end human trafficking, you have to end sweatshops. If the big buyers, the major corporate buyers, if they were to say "We don't ever want to see modern day slavery again in our supply chain," it would disappear."

Laura Germino
Anti-Slavery Campaign Coordinator
Coalition of Immokalee Workers

Some human trafficking experts and human rights activists believe there is a connection between the US fast food industry and modern slavery in the United States.

I have recently posted a short audio documentary on the tradio21 web site "McTrafficked: The Fast Food Industry and Modern Day Slavery in the US".  

The piece centers around the Coalition of Immokalee Workers' visit to Chicago to launch their campaign against McDonald's.

The Coalition of Immokalee Workers, a Florida based farm worker organization, has helped free over 1000 people held in peonage, forced labor, debt bondage and conditions of trafficking in the United States.

"The key factor [to labor trafficking] is not people's citizenship status, it's the imbalance of power.. between the employers and the employees, and when you are in an industry where there is not a huge imbalance of power you do not see modern day slavery occurring, or human trafficking."


"Modern day slavery doesn't take place in a vacuum. It doesn't fall out of the sky and graft itself onto an otherwise healthy industry. It takes root in industries where there's already a wide range of labor violations, sub poverty wages, no benefits, a contingent work force with little rights. Just flip it over and look at it the other way, you would not see it in a unionized work place. You see it where there's already serious labor violations and then it takes just a little bit to have it tip over from sweatshop conditions into actual slavery, meaning when you are not able to leave even if you'd like to, when you are being held against your will."

Laura Germino
Anti-Slavery Campaign Coordinator
Coalition of Immokalee Workers

In March of this year the Coalition of Immokalee Workers' came to Chicago to launch a national campaign against McDonald's. Chicago is home to McDonald's corporate headquarters.

In 2001 the Coalition of Immokalee Workers began a national boycott of Taco bell in an effort to increase farm worker's wages and develop procedures that would lead to better working conditions. Universities around the United States pushed Taco Bell restaurants off their campuses. The US Presbyterian Church and several student organizations became national organizing forces behind the boycott.

In 2005 Taco Bell, through its parent company Yum brand foods became the only fast food restaurant to establish a working relationship with the Immokalee Workers in Florida. The Coalition's national boycott of Taco Bell ended when Taco Bell agreed to pay one additional cent per pound of tomatoes.

The additional penny per pound increases a tomato pickers wage by approximately 75%.

This year the Coalition of Immokalee Workers was awarded the Paul and Sheila Wellstone Award by the Freedom Network USA for their efforts to combat human trafficking in the United States.

In 2003 Julia Gabriel, Lucas Benitez and Romeo Ramirez of the CIW were the first US recipients of the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award. Per the RFK Human Rights Award's web site "Farm workers themselves, they [Gabriel, Benitez, and Ramirez] have become leaders in the fight to end slave labor, human trafficking and exploitation in agriculture fields across the U.S."

See the Student Farmworker Alliance for additional information on efforts related to the CIW.

I hadn't heard of this organization until now...interesting article. I wonder if there is any parallel work like this going on in Europe?

"Once in awhile we get shown the light, in the strangest of places, if we look at it right" - Hunter/Garcia
by whataboutbob on Fri Aug 11th, 2006 at 05:02:20 AM EST
That is a good question. I don't know anything about the European farmworker story. It would be interesting to learn more.
by aden on Fri Aug 11th, 2006 at 10:59:05 AM EST
[ Parent ]
(Can't help thinking of the Big Mac index recently published in another thread.)
by Number 6 on Fri Aug 11th, 2006 at 06:50:51 AM EST
At first that one cent number seems a little surreal.

Tomato pickers are paid around 45 cents per 32 pound bucket of tomatoes picked or roughly 1.4 cents per pound. A penny per pound increase makes a significant increase in a tomato pickers wages moving it from 45 cents per bucket to 76 cents per bucket.

The Taco Bell agreement was that this one cent per pound increase went directly to the farmworker.

by aden on Fri Aug 11th, 2006 at 11:09:26 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks. (Consumer prices seem a bit higher. Damn you, middlemen!)

Still wages no average West European or American would consider ...
Run for the border, indeed.

by Number 6 on Fri Aug 11th, 2006 at 11:59:42 AM EST
[ Parent ]
About a month or two back I was discussing in a thread with Jerome how I felt his writings on labor rights issues were relevant to the human trafficking story.

I was arguing that if countries are finding themselves combating human trafficking through law enforcement, one thing it points to is a failure in that country's labor policies. When law enforcement rescues a victim of trafficking and successfully prosecutes a trafficker or gang related to trafficking, it is post-trafficking event. As Laura Germino states in the audio piece, the fact that the counter-human trafficking movement is growing in the US highlights a "sorry state of affairs in this country".

Many people, and press, have framed the increase in prosecutions of human trafficking crimes as a good thing. Without a doubt the prosecution of trafficking and crimes related to forced labor and slavery is a very good thing, however, what I feel is often missing from the dialogue is why does this crime still exist in a "modern" society? For answers to that question we need to start examining the reasons the environments that allow trafficking to occur exist. I found Laura Germino to speak very well to that point with regards to labor trafficking in the US.

As an aside, the Coalition of Immokalee workers will often use the term modern day slavery in place of human trafficking. The reason behind this is that several of the cases that they uncovered and helped prosecute were before the United States had ratified its human trafficking laws. Department of Justice prosecutors were able to win their cases using peonage & slavery related laws created just after the US Civil War.

by aden on Fri Aug 11th, 2006 at 11:36:01 AM EST
I get a little annoyed sometimes when I see terms such as  white slavery or modern day slavery, as if those versions are different than the old kind. But I realise the meaning of many words has become more specific over time, so perhaps it's necessary to make the point clear.
by Number 6 on Fri Aug 11th, 2006 at 12:08:57 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I can relate to the annoyance -I questioned using it in the title. I am sure that many feel the term modern day slavery has more punch than the term human trafficking. Others find it a bit on the spin side, and thus can blur the issue. I found  CIW's reasoning behind their use of the term to be very interesting, and thus kept it in the title.

There is a difference between the conditions that "modern day slavery" is meant to represent and what many think of as traditional slavery or chattel slavery  -Wikipedia link on slavery. My understanding is that there is an active chattel slave trade in existence in the Sudan and Mauritania.

I don't think the term white slave trade is used that much in the Western press. There was an anti-white slave trade movement in the late 1800s, early 1900s here in the US, and I think in Britain. But if interested, it is well worth reading about, as there are some parallels with the current counter human trafficking movement. Jo Doezema wrote an interesting article on the subject.

by aden on Fri Aug 11th, 2006 at 01:41:27 PM EST
[ Parent ]
To be absolutely clear, my comment was not directed at you. I was simply thinking aloud again. :)

(Thanks for the link. Will read later.)

by Number 6 on Mon Aug 14th, 2006 at 04:39:52 AM EST
[ Parent ]
It exists in a modern society because of (1) workers wanting to leave their homeland for a better life, (2) traffickers being able to take advantage of the desire of workers to get here, (3) a lack of serious funding of law enforcement, and (4) the fact that this all takes place in the shadow economy.  When we force people to sneak into the country, we create a market for human trafficking.

We can't stop them from coming to this country, but we can provide a situation in which trafficking is unnecessary, and we can provide oversight by funding our officers.  The CIW shouldn't have to investigate these cases.  We're supposed to have cops for that.  Until we fix those problems, the story will remain the same.

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.

by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Fri Aug 11th, 2006 at 01:42:01 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Drew, while I agree with all your points, and what you are saying, I think the point that Laura Germino of CIW is making about the imbalance of power between the employer and the employee is a very important one to include in the human trafficking discussion.

The largest human trafficking case in the US involved workers from Vietnam and China working in a garment factory on an island in the America Somoas. These workers had guest worker Visas. To my knowledge, none of them had to sneak into the country, they all had legal residency status. I have not done the research yet, but I am pretty sure their guest worker visas is similar to the types of guest worker visas that President Bush has been promoting to address the immigration debate.

None of this is an argument against your points, but issues that I think need to be more prominent within the human trafficking discussion.

longer series on the America Somoas case

by aden on Fri Aug 11th, 2006 at 03:05:23 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm not disagreeing with you, but, if I'm not mistaken, American Samoa, while technically a US territory, is run by its own government.  I believe it's, on paper, under the authority of the Department of the Interior.  To say that this example constitutes the largest trafficking case in US history is, in my opinion, stretching the definition of the US a bit -- not that America isn't responsible to some extent.  (I'm sure we are.)

The balance of power between employer and employee certainly plays a role in those sorts of cases.  I don't disagree with you on that at all.  But the balance of power is not the be-all, end-all of human trafficking.  It's a symptom of a larger problem.  With the rise of China and India, clearly power has shifted to employers in the case of manufacturing, but that doesn't mean we can't support basic worker rights here.  Whenever there is a case of many workers being able to do a job, power is going to shift to the employer, just as power shifts to the employee when the employer needs him.

That's simple economics.  We can work to ensure that a shift in power doesn't translate to abuse of human rights by one party to the contract over another, but we can't stop shifts in economic power, because they result from forces that are generally outside of our control.

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.

by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Sat Aug 12th, 2006 at 11:11:37 AM EST
[ Parent ]

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