Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Slavery is alive and well

German children forced to dig turf. Photo by Peter Wensterski/Courtesy The Independent
 Germany today agreed to pay 120 million euros to compensate for enslaving and abusing a generation of children in foster homes. Between 1945 and 1970, some of the worst abuses by the Nazis were perpetrated in foster homes run by religious institutions and by the state.  Children were subjected to inhuman treatment, including forced labor, sexual abuse, beatings and solitary confinement. And they were locked away for minor offenses -- one girl was sent away for spending the night dancing with her boyfriend.

The Independent of London reports some of the gruesome details:
...Nazi-era practices included beatings for petty offences like using too much soap or "nose picking" and incarceration in solitary confinement cells for "daring to hum" pop songs. One victim ... recalled ... that a standard foster home punishment for talking at night was being made to stand naked in an unheated corridor until a freshly lit new candle had burned itself out. "It meant standing naked all night," he said. Forced unpaid labour included ditch digging, turf cutting and being sub-contracted out to construction firms to hump bricks. For adolescent girls, the favourite form of unpaid labour was carried out in laundries, where they had to work for hours washing by hand and ironing...
Unfortunately, this is not a closed chapter of history. Last week in South Florida, two owners of a contracting service were sentenced to prison for forcing 39 Filipino guest workers to work in hotels and country clubs. According to the Miami Herald,
Alfonso Baldonado Jr., was sentenced to 51 months in federal prison. Sophia Manuel was sentenced to 6 ½ years, receiving a heavier sentence for making false statements on a U.S. Department of Labor application.
Forced labor is not unknown in South Florida, where 1,000 tomato and orange field workers were freed from slavery since 1997 through the work of federal prosecutors and the Coalition of Immokalee Workers.

Ohio just passed a law that makes human-trafficking a felony, reports the Youngstown News. The paper reports today that Ohio has been in danger of becoming a safe haven for slaves.
Indeed, while the 1,000 young people between the ages of 12 and 17 forced into the sex trade in one year may pale in comparison to 20,000 victims in the United States, the number is still significant for a state in middle America. In Ohio, another 800 immigrants are sexually exploited and pushed in sweatshop-type jobs...Ohio has been described as a high supply, transit and destination state for victims. They could be foreign-born residents in the state legally or illegally, domestic violence victims, runaways and homeless youth. Forced labor and sex trafficking are what awaits them.
Slavery damages American workers watching their jobs move overseas -- to China, for example, where today UPI reported Chinese authorities arrested the owner of a shelter for the mentally ill for selling them as slaves to the owner of a talcum powder factory.

It's a reminder that workers' rights are human rights.