Tag Archive: Labor

September, 2021 Monthly Reflection

September 1, 2021

Preying on the Vulnerable……Let Us Pray and Advocate

by Sally Duffy, SC

“Farmworkers picking & bagging lettuce” by yaxchibonam is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Labor trafficking advocacy can often get overshadowed by sex trafficking in discussions with state and federal legislators. This is not an either/or but rather a both/and when meeting with legislators. The U.S. National Human Trafficking Hotline learned about 1,236 situations of labor trafficking in 2019.

About six years ago there was a labor trafficking indictment against four men connected with labor trafficking of minors at an egg farm in Marion, Ohio. The labor trafficking scheme forced eight Guatemalan minors to work at egg farms in central Ohio. Haba Corporate Services contracted to provide labor to Trillium Farms, knowing that the workers were unlawfully present in the United States. The unaccompanied minors had been coerced or threatened to enter the United States and then housed in an isolated trailer park in Marion, Ohio. In 2013 and 2014, Trillim Farms paid the defendant’s company approximately $6 million for its labor services.

Immigration laws were violated and contributed to the exploitation of vulnerable children who lacked immigration status. “The four defendants coerced and assisted individuals to enter the United States illegally, many of them children, forcing them to live in deplorable conditions and work for little to no wages,” said Special Agent in Charge Stephen D. Anthony of the FBI’s Cleveland Division in a Department of Justice, U.S. Attorney’s Office, Northern District of Ohio September 18, 2018 Press Release. “These reprehensible actions are unacceptable and rest assured the FBI will continue to work with our partners to bring to justice those who engage in human trafficking.” Comprehensive immigration reform would also alleviate the vulnerability of minors and adults.[i]

There is a difference between human smuggling and human trafficking that often needs to be differentiated. Polaris Project provided the following clarification in a blog post on May 25, 2021[ii].

Human smuggling is the business of transporting people illegally across an international border, in this case into the United States. Smuggling does not involve coercion. The people the smugglers bring from one place to another place – illegally – generally have chosen to make the trip themselves for any number of reasons. Some are fleeing violence or poverty. Most, and are in fact, paying someone to help them make the journey.

Human trafficking, by contrast, is involuntary and is integral to its very definition. Traffickers use force, fraud or coercion to get someone to sell sex or work in exploitative conditions.”

Another important issue related to labor trafficking is that the United States never totally abolished slavery. The 13thAmendment has an “Exception Clause”, it remains possible for slavery to be used as a method of punishment, allowing the government to legally subject people incarcerated across the United States to forced labor. Just because something is legal, it does not mean it is just. Numerous states have introduced legislation to either remove the punishment clause from their state constitutions or add language to explicitly outlaw slavery or involuntary servitude as punishment for a crime. Utah, Nebraska and Colorado voters have already voted to remove the “exception clause” language from their state constitutions that allow for slavery or involuntary servitude through the use of forced prison labor.

Unfortunately, this exception clause has been used to force labor of prisoners and persons in detention centers. The labor conditions are not always safe and the wages often do not meet the minimum wage standards and on average are around one dollar/hour.

You can join Polaris Project in their campaigns demanding all states and the federal government to explicitly outlaw slavery and involuntary servitude as punishment for a crime in the U.S. and state constitutions. “Taking forced prison labor out of the U.S. Constitution doesn’t mean abolishing prison labor altogether. Many incarcerated people want the opportunity to earn money, learn new skills, and contribute to the economy. But the current system of forcing people to work, for little or no pay, often in dangerous or unhealthy conditions, does not make our streets safer. It does, however, create a profit motive for sending people to prison, which has in turn led to the devastating mass incarceration of Black Americans.”[iii]

Please consider advocating to put an end to the “Exception Clause” in the United States. You can take action immediately.

Another advocacy issue is Raising Labor Standards by working to get a National Domestic Workers Bill of Rights passed in order to ensure that the people who clean our homes and care for our loved ones receive the fair wages, benefits, and protections all workers deserve. A Domestic Bill of Rights has been passed in 11 states (most recently Virginia) and 2 cities.

There are efforts to introduce a bill at the national level that would create a standard level of protection and dignity for domestic workers. The bill will be co-sponsored by Senators Kristen Gillibrand and Ben Ray Lujan and Representative Pramila Jayapal.[iv]

Some of the protections in the bill include:

  • Paid sick leave to take care of one’s self or their families
  • Extend civil rights protections, including against workplace harassment, to domestic workers.
  • Afford domestic workers the right to meal and rest breaks.
  • Establish written agreements to ensure clarity on roles and responsibilities.
  • Protect against losing pay due to last-minute cancellations.

You can participate in this advocacy immediately through this link.

Additional legislation that was passed in California is The Fraudulent Overseas Recruitment and Trafficking Elimination (FORTE), Act H.R. 3344 (Royce (R) to increase access to information for workers lawfully entering the United States, prohibit workers from paying fees to foreign labor recruiters, require companies to utilize registered foreign labor recruiters to prevent cases of exploitation and modern-day slavery in the United States.

“Every year traffickers use trains, buses, planes and ships to transport thousands of victims, hiding them in plain sight while traveling to destinations around the world. As the eyes and ears in airports and global transportation systems, airport employees are uniquely positioned to help combat the issue of human trafficking. The Sacramento County Department of Airports (SCDA) partnered with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to develop a new Human Trafficking Awareness and Reporting training program. The Blue Lightning Initiative (BLI) is designed to provide airport employees with the tools needed to take advantage of their unique position and ability to identify potential human trafficking victims and notify federal authorities.

Passed and signed in 2018, it requires transit agencies like bus and light rail stations to provide human trafficking training to employees who may interact with traffickers and/or their victims.”[v]

Thank you to Samantha Mott of Saccounty News for highlighting this human trafficking training on March 10, 2021. Samantha Mott is the Communications and Media Officer for the Department of Health Services in Sacramento County, California.

The Top Three Identified Types of Labor Trafficking in the United States in 2019 by the Polaris Project.[vi] Please remember that this information is under-reported.

  • Domestic Work: 218
  • Agriculture and Animal Husbandry: 108
  • Traveling Sales Crews: 107

[i] https://www.justice.gov/usao-ndoh/pr/another-defendant-pleads-guilty-connection-labor-trafficking-minors-ohio-egg-farm

[ii] https://polarisproject.org/blog/2021/05/trafficking-vs-smuggling-understanding-the-difference/

[iii] https://act.polarisproject.org/page/84391/action/1?ea.tracking.id=takeaction

[iv] https://jayapal.house.gov/2021/07/29/domestic-workers-bill-of-rights/

[v] https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billTextClient.xhtml?bill_id=201720180AB2034

[vi] https://polarisproject.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/Polaris-2019-US-National-Human-Trafficking-Hotline-Data-Report.pdf

Sally Duffy, SC, is a member of the USCSAHT Board of Directors.

Potato Slaves: The Cost of an H-2A Visa in Texas

September 8, 2020

Workers at a potato processing plant in Texas face abuse by their employers but choose to stay silent out of fear of losing their H-2A visas. Most are unaware they’re even victims of forced labor, or that the fees they’re required to pay to their supervisors for a visa are illegal. They don’t trust the authorities either, and fear retaliation for speaking out. It’s a reality faced by some 36,000 people a year in this border state.

Pablo suffered through countless hardships to avoid losing his temporary work visa and job at a potato plant in Dalhart, in the Texas Panhandle. One day, he said his boss, Xavier López Palacios, hit him so hard in the leg that he was left with a limp. On others, Pablo was pressured repeatedly to work faster.

Palacios, who was in charge of the warehouse until June, also shouted insults at Pablo and threatened to call immigration agents to deport him; under strict orders, Pablo worked up to 22 continuous hours. Once he was so tired that he accidentally fractured his hand. In spite of the doctor’s orders, López Palacios —who has denied the aforementioned accusations—wouldn’t allow Pablo to rest, he said.

Pablo’s name has been changed and some of his personal details were omitted to guarantee his and his family’s safety, and to avoid retaliation.

To read the full story by Patricia Clarembaux & Almudena Toral on Univision: Click Here

Transparency Throughout Agricultural Supply Chain in Regard to Human Trafficking Targeted

April 8, 2019

Retail sellers of agricultural products, regardless of where the product originated, who do business in Washington and have a worldwide gross receipt of more than $200 million, would be required to disclose violations of employment-related laws, incidents of slavery, peonage or working to payback debt, and human trafficking, under proposed legislation.

Sen. Rebecca Saldaña, D- Seattle, is the prime sponsor of Senate Bill 5693, which passed from the Labor and Commerce Committee to the Senate Rules Committee on Feb. 21.

“It’s my job, I believe, as a consumer to make sure that I’m asking the hard questions around and supporting industry to be able to help us eradicate slavery and to make sure that people are having their human rights protected and respected,” Saldaña said. “This is really a step in that direction.”

Indira Trejo, the global impact coordinator for United Farm Workers, testified in front of the labor and commerce committee in support of the bill.

“I have learned that globally farm workers face many of the same issues, around the world,” Trejo said. “Farm workers risk being seen as disposable and invisible, stripped of their human dignity and worth.”

Washingtonians want to know when a worker involved in the agricultural process is being treated unfairly, Trejo said.
Carolyn Logue of the Washington Food Industry Association testified in opposition to the bill.

“We think what this will do is create a paperwork nightmare with significant liabilities for a lot of our businesses without dealing really effectively and efficiently with the very real problem of human trafficking and the other problems listed here,” Logue said.

Agricultural product is defined in the bill as cocoa, dairy, coffee, sugar and fruit products. The bill also defines what agricultural products do not mean, which is wheat, potato, onions, asparagus or other vegetable products.

Tom Davis with the Washington Farm Bureau noted that 95 percent of the farms in the state are family farms and that the “accusations” made in this bill towards them are “outrageous.”

“It presupposes that slavery, peonage and human trafficking are taking place on our family farms,” Davis said.

To read the full story by Emma Epperly on Nisqually Valley News: Click Here

Couple Promised Jobs To Lure Workers. They Beat Them And Didn’t Pay, Prosecutors Say

March 28, 2019

A former Stockton couple convicted in a human trafficking case faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in federal prison for physically abusing, exploiting and threatening workers they hired from India and Nepal under false pretenses, authorities announced Monday.

After an 11-day trial in federal court, a jury on Thursday convicted Satish Kartan, 45, and his wife, Sharmistha Barai, 40, according to a news release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Sacramento.

The married couple was found guilty of conspiracy to obtain forced labor and two counts of obtaining forced labor. Kartan also was found guilty of fraud in foreign labor contracting.

“These defendants exploited one victim after another, using them to labor in their home, failing to pay wages and depriving them of basic human rights,” U.S. Attorney McGregor W. Scott said in the release.

From February 2014 through October 2016, Kartan and Barai hired people from overseas to do domestic work in their Stockton home.

Federal prosecutors said the couple made false claims about wages and work duties in advertisements seeking workers online and in India-based newspapers.

After the workers arrived in Stockton, Kartan and Barai forced them to work 18 hours a day while depriving them of sleep and food, according to the prosecutors. They said few of the workers were paid a wage.

The defendants kept the workers from leaving their jobs “by threatening them, by creating an atmosphere of fear, control and disempowerment,” according to the release. Several workers also were threatened that attempts to leave their jobs would be reported to police or immigration officials.

Sean Ragan, special agent in charge of the Sacramento FBI Field Office, said Kartan and Barai did more than simply fail to pay victims for their work.

To read the full story by Rosalio Ahumada on Merced Sun-Star: Click Here

June, 2017 Monthly Reflection

June 1, 2017

Are We Living Too Fast?

By Sister Jean Schafer SDS

Summer time! For some of us around the country that season is long in coming and often too short. For most of us we want to make the most of summer: enjoy a bit more leisure, travel, read a good book, wear those new summer clothes we bought during the spring sale – our ‘summer wish list’ goes on.

What we probably do not include in that list, however, is a growing consciousness of our role in stopping or furthering the ‘fast fashion’ industry’s exploitation of both the producers and consumers of cheap clothing. To become conscious of our role in this global web of overproduction, human trafficking and environmental pollution is a challenging learning curve. Caring and courageous people are taking up that challenge. By reading further you may sense an invitation to get involved, as well!

What Is ‘Fast Fashion’?

A brief definition: “Fast fashion is the quick turnover of trendy, cheaply-made clothing that often ends up in landfill.” The tradition of introducing new fashion lines on a seasonal basis is eroding as some fast-fashion retailers introduce new products multiple times in a single week.

Three major components link us into that reality and its exploitative outcomes.

  • Trendy clothing: The retail industry has convinced the consumer through slick advertising that a new fashion is on the shelves and s/he has to buy it before it goes out of style. Thus, consumers are conditioned to visit retail stores often and succumb to purchase something trendy, whether needed or not.
  • Quick and cheaply made: Those who sew the clothing are forced to work long hours for very low wages under unhealthy conditions, so the retailer can offer us the cheap price that satisfies our expectation of ‘affordable’. Workers have few or no rights and most are caught in labor trafficking because they lack voice or options for better jobs.
  • Landfill destinations: Because cheaply-made clothing does not last and because we did not pay much to own them, it is easy to toss out the ‘outmoded’ and buy the ‘new trendy’ replacement. Yes, we recycle, but thrift stores eventually resort to landfills to keep their racks full of ‘trendy’ clothes.

If you are ready for the challenge, let’s explore more deeply a few of the real facts and trends behind these components of the ‘fast fashion’ phenomenon.

The world now consumes about 80 billion new pieces of clothing every year. Clothing consumption has increased 500% in the US in just the last couple of decades. Roughly 98% of clothing sold in America are actually made overseas, compared to 5% in 1960. Meanwhile, the global fashion industry earns about $3 trillion per year.

What the ‘Fast Fashion’ industry won’t tell you:

  • The fashion industry is designed to make you feel “out of trend” after one week.
  • ‘Discounts’ aren’t really discounts.
  • There are hazardous chemicals, including lead in your clothing.
  • Clothing is designed to fall apart.
  • Beading and sequins may be an indication of child labor.

There are about 40 million garment workers in the world today; 85% of them are women. On average, only 0.5 to 3% of the cost of production for the average item of clothing goes to the worker who made it – i.e., 30 cents of a shirt costing $10 to make. Then there are also workplace abuses: wage theft (not paying overtime, violating minimum wage laws), lack of building safety, and underage employees, some as young as 11 years old.

The average hourly wage for garment workers:

Bangladesh  $0.24

Cambodia      $0.45

Pakistan        $0.52

Vietnam         $0.53

China              $1.26

What ‘Fast Fashion’ Retailers Earn:

  • GAP’s CEO Arthur Peck’s annual compensation: $3,510,000; Reported accumulated compensation: $30,468,880
  • Hennes & Mauritz is Europe’s largest fashion retailer. H&M CEO Karl-Johan Persson’s net worth: $3,000,000,000. He is grandson of H&M’s founder. The Persson family’s worth: $26,000,000,000. (They own 36% shares in H&M.)

What Does ‘Fast’ Look Like?

Farfetch.com announced that it would now be delivering Gucci in 90 minutes in 10 major cities around the world. *F90 delivery is available from store to door in the following cities: London, Paris, Madrid, Milan, New York City, Los Angeles, Miami, Dubai, Tokyo, São Paulo.

Environmental Impact of ‘Fast Fashion’

  • Apparel accounts for 10% of global carbon emissions, the second largest industrial polluter, second only to oil.
  • It takes up to 700 gallons of water to produce the cotton needed to make a single t­-shirt.
  • Cotton production is now responsible for 18% of worldwide pesticide use and 25% of total insecticide use.
  • We churn out clothes at an alarming rate — Americans now buy five ­times as much clothing as they did in 1980.
  • Pesticide-infused cotton fields in Texas and India coincide with high incidences of cancer deaths of farmers.
  • Nearly 70 million barrels of oil are used each year to make the world’s polyester fiber, which is now the most commonly used fiber in our clothing. But it takes more than 200 years to decompose.
  • In the US alone, 12.8 million tons of clothing are sent to landfills each year (about 87 lbs of clothing per person every year). Massive landfills in developing countries, such as Haiti, give off poisonous gases and seep deadly chemicals into the waterways and oceans, as the synthetic materials rot.
  • Textiles use 25% of chemicals produced worldwide, many of which are dumped into the environment after use. This water pollution coincides with a massive rise in local cancer and birth defects, especially among children.
  • In 2014, the US produced 35.4 million tons of containerboard, a large proportion of which becomes disposable packaging used in e­-commerce.

Global Response to Tragedy

On April 24, 2013, 1,134 people were killed and over 2,500 were injured when the 8-storey Rana Plaza complex collapsed in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Workers said the building was unsafe. Yet managers forced them in and locked the doors.

This date was also when a Fashion Revolution was born and many people rallied to do something to right this terrible wrong.

“The old notion of a ‘good buy’ is that it is cheap and makes you look thin. A renewed notion: a ‘good buy’ for us as Catholics has ethical content. How was it sourced? How does it care for creation? How were the workers treated in the making of this garment? How were they paid?” (The Human Thread Campaign.org: Five Reasons)

What Can We Do?

View the documentary: The True Cost.

This 2015 documentary film directed by Andrew Morgan focuses on fast fashion. Morgan examines the garment industry and links it to consumerism, mass media, globalization, capitalism, structural poverty, oppression, and human trafficking. The documentary is a collage of several interviews with environmentalists, garment workers, factory owners, and people organizing fair trade companies or promoting sustainable clothing production. (True Cost Movie Website)

Take the Pledge to become a responsible consumer and educate yourself on the true cost of fashion:

  • I pledge to be a responsible consumer and remain aware of the environmental and human effects of the fast fashion industry.
  • Buy clothes made with sustainable fibers (recycled polyester, organic cotton).
  • Ask the brands you buy from how their clothes are made—tweet at them or ask retailers when you are in stores about where, how, and who makes their clothing.
  • Recycle clothes at thrift stores, vintage stores, or donation locations.
  • Participate in clothing-swap meet-ups—it’s fun.
  • Buy what you need, not always what you want.
  • Participate in “slow fashion.”
  • Buy clothes you love, that last, and that have an exceptional warranty policy to help you mend them over time.
  • Wash your jeans less.

Search the Internet for information on the harms of ‘fast fashion’:

Search the Internet for information on ways people and companies are working to counter ‘fast fashion’:

General Resources:

In his Message for the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation, Pope Francis wrote: “As individuals, we have grown comfortable with certain lifestyles shaped by a distorted culture of prosperity and a ‘disordered desire to consume more than what is really necessary’ (Laudato Si’, 123), and we are participants in a system that ‘has imposed the mentality of profit at any price, with no concern for social exclusion or the destruction of nature.’ Let us repent of the harm we are doing to our common home.”