A Modern Form of Slavery Emerges on FarmsEmail this post to a friend.
Seven days before Christmas 1865 the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution officially outlawed slavery and involuntary servitude. Now, almost 150 years on, a new and modern form of slavery is creeping back into the southern states.
Traditionally forced labour in America is concentrated on areas with large foreign communities such as New York, California, Texas and Florida. At one time it was estimated at least 45 per cent of workers in long-hours, low-pay industries were illegal immigrants. But in the last ten years unscrupulous employers have begun targeting a different and highly vulnerable sector of society — the homeless drug addict.
A 2004 report claimed that forced labor existed in at least 90 cities across the United States. Researchers from the University of California found that 10,000-plus people were enslaved in sweat shops, being used as domestic cleaners and farm laborers, or made to work as strippers and prostitutes. Eight years on and the numbers have barely changed. “Slavery is a problem the public thinks we solved long ago,” said Human Rights Centre researcher, Laurel Fletcher. “In fact, it’s alive and well. It has simply taken on new forms.”
The same year that UC Berkeley published its findings a Florida farm was being sued for infringing labor laws. That same Hastings estate — Bull’s Hit Ranch and Farm — is once again at the centre of a slavery row, this time after claims that addicted workers were held captive with the temptation of drugs and alcohol. So far two men have filed complaints against the farm’s owner. Both claim the practice is widespread across the southern states and the pool of future victims is only getting bigger.
There is no West Palm Beach treatment centers for these individuals; they are homeless, down-at-luck, and drug addled. And it is when they’re at their lowest that the farm and factory owners move in. Reported in the Tampa Bay Times one of the men, LeRoy Smith, he was promised employment and a place to live. What he experienced was: “Slavery. Abuse. Overwork. Drugs. And deplorable, unsanitary conditions.”
A legal action, filed by Florida Legal Services and Farmworker Justices, on behalf of Smith and a co-worker, alleges the farm attempted to build a low-cost work force by “a vicious cycle of debt and drugs”. One official admitted several other businesses were under investigation. “The lack of shackles,” he added, “does not mean slavery is over.”
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