Friday, January 3, 2020

Labor Trafficking Discussion with the World Affairs Council of Central FL

On December 19th, the Farmworker Association had the honor of hosting a group of labor trafficking professionals from Poland visiting the United States to learn more about how our country addresses and handles cases of human trafficking of workers. Collaborating with the World Affairs Council of Central Florida, FWAF conducted a presentation on labor trafficking specifically related to the issues of farmworkers, including those brought to the U.S. as H2A or guestworkers. Human trafficking occurs across the world, and the Orlando area has had some of the highest human trafficking reports in the United States. Though they are less visible than workers in other sectors, FWAF has addressed cases of labor trafficking of farmworkers in various areas around our state.

Labor trafficking is a form of human trafficking, which involves the illegal, and often forced, transportation of people, sometimes across borders. While human trafficking can lead to sexual exploitation, labor trafficking focuses on the illegal movement and treatment of people for labor or services, often being seen as a form of modern-day slavery in which people are forced or coerced into working through the accumulation of debts or threats to health and safety.

Due to the Farmworker Association's experiences with labor trafficking cases, most involving workers recruited in their home countries of Mexico and Honduras, the World Affairs Council of Central Florida brought the group to our Apopka area office so they could learn about and participate in a discussion about labor trafficking in agriculture.

The agricultural system in the United States has always involved labor trafficking. From the days when people from Africa were first brought to this country and enslaved on plantations that exploited and abused them, until the present day fraud, deception and exploitation that entraps and intimidates farmworkers, agriculture has consistently depended on a cheap, vulnerable and exploitable labor force. The majority of farmworkers are underpaid and are excluded from labor laws that cover most all other workers. Additionally, there is a complex, entrenched and advanced system of labor trafficking of farmworkers in place.  Even if one case of trafficking is brought to justice, the convoluted network of trafficking unfortunately continues to survive.

Often recruiters will target impoverished areas in Central and South America to find people desperate for work and money. Recruiters will tell these people that if they spend some time harvesting crops in the United States, they will earn money to send back to their families, and receive food and housing. Yet when these people are sent to the United States, the recruiters rack up massive, and fabricated debts for the victims, threatening the victims' families and their lives if they do not pay back what the recruiters have said they owe. These people are then forced to work for almost no compensation, and oftentimes horrible conditions, in order to pay back the recruiters that have swindled them.

The visiting group of labor trafficking experts had a lot of questions about labor trafficking in the United States, primarily focusing on the role of law enforcement in labor trafficking. They were all surprised to hear that law enforcement is not able to stop labor trafficking, because the issue is so widespread. Human rights organizations or NGOs in the U.S. work to educate the public and help victims of labor trafficking, which is especially urgent now considering the anti-immigrant sentiment that has impacted the laws in the United States.

The Farmworker Association of Florida was eager to share additional information on labor trafficking to the group. Human trafficking is a major problem throughout the world, especially in the United States. We hope that through the spread of information and education, we can continue to fight back against human trafficking.

Monday, August 19, 2019

The National Memorial for Peace and Justice, and The Legacy Museum: from slavery to mass incarceration.

Last month, members and staff traveled with a bus to Alabama to visit the National Memorial for Peace and Justice and the Legacy Museum. This photo essay relates the profound experience of that trip.


"Education about the legacy of racial inequality, truth and reconciliation, is what leads to real solutions to contemporary problems." EJI.

Last Friday July 26, in Apopka, Linda Lee, Mary Ann Robinson (organizers of Lake Apopka Farmworker  Memorial Quilt), Linda Lee’s grand-daughters and great-grandchildren: Cinnamon and Cheyanne, Pootie, Duke and Squirt, Luckner, (organizer of the Haitian community at FWAF) Leonor and Maria, (FWAF leadership group), Ana (FWAF youth group), boarded a bus that came from Miami and went to Alabama, picking up almost 60 people working in grassroots organizations with FLIC.

Together we were going to visit two physical spaces made by Equal Justice Initiative, which seeks to publicly confront the truth about our history, as a first step towards the recovery and reconciliation of our communities.

On Saturday July 27th, we all entered the first national memorial dedicated to the legacy of enslaved black people, black people terrified of lynching, black people humiliated by racial segregation and Jim Crow, black people oppressed by contemporary presumptions of guilt and police violence.

Kwame Akoto-Bamfo’s sculptures gave us a first image of slavery. Observing those faces and bodies, we began a tour of lynching and contextualized racial terror through texts, narrations, monuments, sculptures, art and design.

It was really really hot. From afar we observed 800 monuments that were shining with sunlight in a memorial square. These monuments symbolize thousands of victims of lynching, of racial terror; the names of lynching victims are engraved in the columns, as well as the counties and states where this terrorism took place.

"The monument is more than a static monument", there is a space of identical monuments, waiting to be claimed in the counties they represent. Over time, the national monument will serve as a report on which parts of the country have faced the truth of this terror and which have not.

Lynchings of racial terror were violent and public acts of torture that traumatized black people across the country and were widely tolerated by state and federal officials. Lynchings were the center of a systematic campaign of perpetual terror to promote an unjust social order. They were not isolated hate crimes; lynchings were terrorism.



EJI documented more than 4,400 lynchings of black people in the United States between 1877 and 1950.


A sculpture by Dana King dedicated to all women who sustained the boycott of Montgomery buses, took us to the era of civil rights. And writings by Toni MorrisonIda B. Wells and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. took us deep into a history of racial injustice, resistance and resilience.

True peace is not merely the absence of tension. It is the presence of JUSTICE.
EJI, through the Community Remembrance Project, is inviting counties across the country to reclaim their monuments and recognize lynching victims, collecting land from sites where they occurred. Eventually, this process will change the built environment of the Deep South and beyond to more honestly reflect our history.

In 1860, Montgomery was the capital of the domestic slave trade in Alabama, one of the two largest slave states in America.

The Legacy Museum is located where once enslaved people were imprisoned, close to the Alabama dock and train station where tens of thousands of black people were trafficked during the 19th century.

We couldn't take pictures inside the museum, and as Luckner said,”you need to come and see the museum to understand the experience”. But we were there and it was very real. The space used technology to dramatize slavery, the evolution of lynching of racial terror, legalized racial segregation and racial hierarchy in the United States. The materials explore the history of racial inequality, but also its relationship with contemporary issues, such as mass incarceration and police violence.

Ana, mentioned how in the same way, the true story of the genocide that was committed on native communities since the colonization and the oppressions in which these communities live to this day, is never told.

In a system dominated by white supremacy and its capitalist models of extraction and gentrification, it was very powerful to see Linda Lee, Mary Ann, Luckner, Leonor and Maria, organizers of the black and brown Apopka community, walking on a memorial that claims the voices of victims of a war of racial terror that has not ended yet.

In the midst of the structural racism that is impregnated as a virus in our communities, it was very powerful to listen and exalt the fighting voices of black communities, who through our new generations such as Cheyanne, Cinnamon, Ana, Pootie, Duke and Squirt, keep demanding justice and reparation today.

It is our duty to understand the history of racial injustice in America so we don’t perpetuate racism in our communities and in our social work.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

The Extractive Economy and Rural Communities

by Nezahualcoyotl Xiuhtecutli

The Farmworker Association of Florida is part of the Climate Justice Alliance, a group of organizations dedicated to fighting climate change and advocating for a Just Transition away from the extractive fuel industry. What is Just Transition you ask? I am glad you do. Just Transition is moving away from the extractive industry economic system in which we currently live and into a more sustainable energy model in a way that leaves no one behind, especially workers and communities of color who are doubly impacted by this economic system.

For one, they often bear the brunt of pollution caused by industrial chemical plants, which are usually built next to these communities. Second, they are also employed at these places, suffering the negative effects of exposure to chemicals and residues impacting their health for years and sometimes generations. When the political tempo changes and some of these companies are faced with the decision to shut down and move somewhere else (and they usually move to places with less strict environmental laws and regulations), workers and their families are left to pick up the pieces living in badly polluted communities suddenly also economically depressed. A Just Transition thus works to make sure that we move away from the extractive polluting economy, but also that the communities that were for so long the backbone workforce filling the coffers of corporations, are included in conversations of those systemic changes needed so that they are not once again left behind.

The Effects of an Extractive Community
Working with other organizations as part of the CJA we have become aware that some of the problems that farmworkers in Florida have been facing are not part unique to either Florida nor agriculture. In conversations with organizations in Texas we have learnt that communities in Houston's East End are surrounded by refineries that spew toxins into the air that moms, dads, children, and grandparents breathe every day. People in Richmond, Cal., are likewise exposed to toxins coming out of local refineries and are faced with the same problems as those communities in Houston, repeatedly facing community lock-downs as spills force people to remain where they are and close all air access to prevent seepage of chemicals into their homes, schools, and workplaces. Earlier this year, a chemical spill in Richmond forced a stretch of the Richmond Parkway to be closed for hours.

Richmond, Cal., dump site.
The current extractive economic system also affects farmworkers at a more personal level. Focused on creating the largest possible profits for the least possible investment, the corporate agricultural system seems hellbent on destroying the earth and humanity. To increase productivity and the bottom line, fields are sprayed with fertilizers and pesticides that decrease the biodiversity of the ecological system. While some may argue that the benefits of chemical fertilizers outweigh the risks and that we are feeding the world, there are a couple of facts that need to be laid on the table. One is that most agriculture in the US these days is not even carried out to produce food for humans. Animal feed and ethanol fuel are the main end products in American agriculture, according to One Green Planet and the US Economic Research Service. Secondly, the use of fertilizers is aimed at increasing the size of crops at harvest time. Aided by chemicals in their development, overuse of chemicals also kills of beneficial soil micoorganisms, as reported in the journal Interdisciplinary Toxicology 

The negative effects of chemicals are not isolated to plants, but extend to social and environmental consequences as well. Small growers are left at a disadvantage against the large corporate agricultural businesses, against whom they cannot compete in global markets. Often they end up losing their farms or have to depend on giants like Bayer-Monsanto for access to seeds. This process at once concentrates wealth and control over what foods we have access to in a few corporate hands, dictating the kind of life we are able to pursue. If you have no control over what you eat and if you have to work twice as hard as you used to to be able to eat healthy, how free are you to the pursuit of happiness we hear we are entitled to by the US Constitution?

Farmworkers are even more vulnerable than small growers. They are the invisible workforce. They receive little credit for their work, have few protections, and because it is a mostly immigrant workforce, they have little recourse with which to seek redress for labor and safety violations. Even though the law protects them, even the knowledge of those rights to workplace safety and protection are often kept from them. In an effort to extract the most profit from the soil, they are often exposed to pesticides. In a much publicized case two years ago, 17 farmworkers from Watsonville, California were exposed to pesticide and had to be hospitalized. The event resulted in a total single fine of $5000. In addition to pesticide exposure, they also suffer the consequences of heat exposure. They work in hot and humid conditions at substandard wages that do not afford them health insurance, much less leave a safety net for emergencies. Over time, those conditions may lead to high-blood pressure, urinary tract infections, and even long-term kidney damage and dialysis. Other reported effects of pesticides include reduced fertility rates, neurological damage, birth defects, and cancer.

Toxic tour of Lake Apopka by FWAF staff.
Not only are individuals affected. Their very communities are often going through exposure to the same powerful chemicals and pollutants someone thought nothing of when dumping into those communities. When pesticides with toxic chemicals are applied and allowed to contaminate the water on which a community depends, that community may be affected for generations. these are not hypothetical cases. The Ojibwa of western Ontario saw the lake around which their livelihood formed poisoned and the community destroyed. African-American farmworkers in Apopka have suffered the effects of pesticide exposure for generations during which toxic pesticides were dumped on Lake Apopka. Their community is still trying to heal from those atrocities.

Building a Just Transition
These cases sound grim, and they are. Ending the extractive economy will be easy feat, nor will it take place overnight. On a recent interview on NPR's On the Media, author Benjamin Kunkel proposed the current geological age be named the Capitalocene instead of the more trendy Anthropocene. His argument was that the changes humans are effecting on the environment are intrinsic to humanity, but rather to the current economic system of the last 500 years. After that time span, it will be difficult to erase the grievances resulting from the sustained violence perpetuated on other humans and the earth from which we all get our food for the sake of profit. However, rather than fall into grievances, we should focus on finding solutions, and these solutions must come from the frontline communities most affected by the extractive economic system, and not from tycoons looking to turn solutions into another buck-making scheme.

FWAF's Encuentro Campesino a Campesino 2018.
Some communities are already looking at ways to reduce soil depletion and agricultural practices that reduce carbon emissions and maintain a health and diverse ecosystem as an integral part of the natural defenses against pests and processes for soil replenishment through agroecological practices as seen in the work of WhyHunger as well as in Florida through our own work. Although we use the word agroecology, this agricultural method is based in agricultural practices dating back millenia, having survived only by being passed down through generations of small farmers to our days. The city of Richmond, CA mentioned above, is itself seeing a community building a Just Transition through the establishment of a community farm on a plot of land that until recently was considered barren. Beginning in 2012, Urban Tilth began working with the government officials to create the North Richmond Farm.

North Richmond Farm, Richmond, Cal.
The extractive economy does not only affect rural communities. Urban dwellers also deal with the environmental consequences of the disposable treatment of the earth and its occupants. In a country and globe increasingly more urbanized, the plight of rural communities often goes unheard. None of us are immune to the effects and consequences of the toll the economic system has taken on our planet. Building a Just Transition to this extractive community is only part of the solution, but these solutions must be grassroots solutions coming from the ground up, from communities who have most at stake in a Just Transition: their own survival.

Labor Trafficking Discussion with the World Affairs Council of Central FL

On December 19th, the Farmworker Association had the honor of hosting a group of labor trafficking professionals from Poland visiting the Un...