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.

Florida Farmworkers and Immigration

By Nezahualcoyotl Xiuhtecutli The Farmworker Association of Florida is rooted in an immigrant community, although we are not all immigrants....