Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Forced Labor News from January

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 January.

Several exclusive country clubs in south Florida were found to be contracting slave labor. The contracting firm, owned by a husband and wife, forced 39 Filipino workers to work 16 hour days with little pay. It is unclear whether the some of the clubs were aware they were using slave labor, but it appears that at least a few were not.

Officials from the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration along with three employment recruitment agencies were charged with corruption and human trafficking. The complaint suggests that officials knowingly allowed the three agencies to continue operating despite knowing they were no longer authorized to operate, due to recruitment violations. The complaint suggests that the officials allowed the recruitment agencies to operate knowing the laborers were to be exploited.

The Laogai Research Foundation, a D.C. based organization that researches and raises awareness about forced-labor prisons in China, released a report suggesting a company based in the province of Alberta, Canada is importing products made in Chinese labor camps. Canada does not allow any products made in labor camps to be imported into the country.

Leticia Moratal, a Filipina babysitter sues the NY family, also Filipino, that she worked with for forced labor, human trafficking and slavery. Though she worked long hours for 10 years, Leticia says she never received money for her labor and was subjected to cruel treatment. She also says that her employers confiscated her passport and threatened her with deportation.

The Supreme Court refused to hear the appeal of a New York City couple who were convicted of enslaving their Indonesian housekeepers. The housekeepers were abused and their documents were confiscated. The wife claims that publicity prevented her from receiving a fair trial, while the husband claims he should not have been convicted simply because he did not stop his wife from committing these crimes.

An updated indictment in the exploitation of Thai workers by an LA based labor contractor, Global Horizons, suggests that their exploitation lasted longer and covered more states than previously thought. More growers were also involved then previously thought including Del Monte. It seems now that nearly 600 Thai workers, not 400, were exploited between 2001-2007 on farms in six different states.

In a landmark case, a Saudi Arabian women has been sentenced to three years for abusing her maid who is from Indonesia. She was sentence under a recent royal decree focusing on combatting human trafficking. The maid was severely beaten and had to be hospitalized in November. This may be the first case of anyone in Saudi Arabia being sentenced for abusing a migrant worker. The convicted woman plans to appeal.

In the United Arab Emirates, a similar landmark case occurred. Two women were charged with forced labor, the first for such a charge in the UAE, for forcing three women to work in a massage parlor, providing massages and sex to customers. The victims were threatened and kept in confinement in addition to not being paid.

A North Carolina women has been accused of enslaving a teen illegal immigrant and is facing charges of forced labor and document servitude. The teen, according to prosecutors, was required to sell goods including alcohol and to clean yards. The women says that the story was fabricated by the teen who was placed in her care while awaiting a judge's decision about his immigration status.

A Ukrainian man may have been forced to work in an oxygen factor for 12 years. Details are still emerging about this case but the man claims that a few months after arriving he suffered burns and was not able to return home. At this time, his employer took his passport and stopped paying him. The man claims he was placed under surveillance by the employer who also threatened him. Later in the month though, details emerged which suggested that the man may not have been forced to work, but that there were problems with his work permit. A former employee of the company has claimed that the Ukrainian man was not forced to work, or even prevented from leaving. An investigation even suggests he may have been paid, but details are still too murky to know what happened for sure.

Photo by Kay Chernush for the US Department of State

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