Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Human trafficking: The year in review (note: it's depressing)

Daniel Costa at the Economic Policy Institute brings us a depressing review of U.S. court cases involving human trafficking, also known as "debt slavery" or just "slavery."

Among the lowlights:
  • ...guest workers brought to Louisiana through the H-2B program (for workers in non-agricultural occupations and without a college degree) were subjected to slave-like employment conditions. Thanks to the work of the National Guestworker Alliance, C.J.’s Seafood—the company at fault and one of Walmart’s seafood suppliers in Louisiana—was suspended by Walmart and fined a total of $248,000 by the Department of Labor (DOL).
  • ...the Southern Poverty Law Center won a judgment of $11.8 million in October against Eller & Sons Trees, Inc., a forestry contractor in Georgia which cheated 4,000 Guatemalan and Mexican H-2B workers out of wages they were owed for planting trees. … One of the plaintiffs in the case said the workers’ pay “would come out to approximately $25 for a 12-hour workday.”
  • ...a Cook County man ... “beat, degraded and terrorized,” and forced undocumented and guest worker immigrant women into prostitution. The “sex-trafficking by force and extortion” the man was convicted of was facilitated in part through a labor recruitment company (technically called a “sponsor”) that processes the issuance of J-1 visas for those coming from abroad to work as au pairs.
We think these examples may reveal more than failures of the U.S. guestworker program. They show that human slavery is making a comeback, according to The Atlantic.
The highest ratios of slaves worldwide are from South and Southeast Asia, along with China, Russia, and the former satellite states of the Soviet Union. There is a significant slave presence across North Africa and the Middle East, including Lebanon. There is also a major slave trade in Africa. Descent-based slavery persists in Mauritania, where children of slaves are passed on to their slave-holders' children. And the North Korean gulag system, which holds 200,000 people, is essentially a constellation of slave-labor camps. Most of the world's slaves are in sedentary forms of servitude, such as hereditary collateral-debt bondage, but about 20 percent have been unwittingly trafficked by predators through deception and coercion. Human trafficking is often highly mobile and dynamic, leveraging modern communications and logistics in the same basic ways contemporary business does generally. After the earthquake of 2010 devastated Haiti, Hispaniola was quickly overrun with opportunistic traffickers targeting children to sell into forced domestic work or brothels.
Maybe next year will be better...