Thursday, January 06, 2011

Forced Labor News from December

Throughout the month, there are many cases or stories that break regarding forced labor. They are usually not on the front pages of our newspapers, rather they are buried deep and sometimes are only accessible through the internet. These are some of the stories, both headline articles and those that are not, from December.

A couple in South Florida was sentenced for forcing almost 40 Filipinos to work in country clubs and hotels. The couple pleaded guilty to crimes such as visa fraud. The workers had their passports confiscated and were not allowed to leave their living quarters without an escort. The victims were also deprived of their wages and proper medical care.

A woman from Russia is suing a man she married in California for forcing her and her daughter into slave labor. She met the man through an online dating service. Within weeks of moving to the US, the man and his son began beating the women and forcing them to work seven days a week performing tasks such as moving large rocks on the father's rural property.

Carmakers have until January 31st to make comments on proposed regulations to prevent the use of conflict minerals in the production of vehicles. Some of the mines where minerals such as tin and tungsten are extracted employ slave and child labor.

A journalist from Hong Kong claims that Local Communist Party officials in the Sichuan Province of China are behind an organization that kidnapped people who were homeless or mentally disabled and forced them into slave labor. The investigation suggests that some of the victims were shocked, beaten and forced to live in very poor conditions.

During an INTERPOL operation, 140 victims of child labor were discovered in Gabon. The operation focused on victims exploited in the local markets, but the children were from a total of 10 different countries. More then 44 suspected traffickers were arrested. The children were forced to do various tasks including carrying heavy items and selling goods.

A jury in Brooklyn awarded a Hindu priest $2 million after finding he had been forced to work in a temple in Corona, NY for 7 years. He worked up to 18 hours a day doing everything from ministering to construction work and was only paid $50 a week amounting to merely $21,000 over seven years. His passport was confiscated and was told he would be arrested if he left.

Police in Florida raided two houses and found 27 potential victims of human trafficking. Police believe the victims were forced to work at a buffet restaurant. Though there are not many details at this time, neighbors noticed that there were many people living at the two houses and that white vans would pick up people early in the morning and would not return until very late at night.

The United States Department of Labor added a dozen countries to its list of countries that use forced or child labor. On a positive note, the department suggest that the number of child laborers is decreasing. Some of the more common products on the list include cotton, sugar, diamonds and gold. You can see the full report here.

Two British firms, Cargill Cotton and ICT Cotton, are facing charges of breaking international rules on child labor by sourcing cotton from Uzbekistan, which is well known for its use of child labor during the cotton harvest. The complaint, filed by the European Centre for Constitutional and Human Rights, claims the organizations are linked to Uzbekistan through branches in the country's capital and partnerships with state-owned merchants.

More details emerged about the the first case of human trafficking to come to trial in Canada. This article provides more details about the conditions workers endured, who is being charged and the types of evidence the government has against the families involved.

Photo by Kay Chernush for the U.S. State Department.

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