The last week of October was a win for 40 farm workers who were victims of forced labor in Florida.
The workers were lured in to gag contracts by the international labor contracting company Los Villatores Harvesting LLC (LVH) who promised the desperate Mexican workers the American Dream jobs on farms in the United States. The Mexican guest worker program is essential for U.S. farms and its economy and provides "guest worker visas" (H2 visa) to thousands of workers. This creates opportunities for exploitive labor and a position of power. LVH used this power. It provided workers the H2 visa against a fee of up to $2,000 promising a refund once their victims arrived in the U.S. The refund was never paid; instead the workers were stripped of their passports and forced to work under inhumane conditions while being threatened with arrest and deportation by their employers and held in debt by LVH.
This horror finally ended when two workers escaped in the trunk of a car and called the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), a worker protection coalition, who contacted authorities and together with federal agencies and the CIW Anti-Slavery Program uncovered the criminal enterprise.
Following this investigation, the human trafficking task force stopped this exploitation in its tracks and brought four members of LVH to court. So far the criminal trial led to three sentences.
The bookkeeper, manager and supervisor Christina Gamez was sentenced to 37 month in prison.
The second supervisor and manager Efrain Cabrera Rodas, a Mexican citizen, was sentenced to 42 months in prison after he made false statements to federal investigators.
A third supervisor, Guadalupe Mendes Mendoza got off with 8 months in home detention.
LVH owner Bladimir Moreno's trial is still ongoing. He pled guilty and will be sentenced on December 28.
Although this is good news. The Coalition of Immokalee Workers stated that many more foreign workers are still oppressed and exploited under the H2 program. The CIW calls for labor rights enforcement and retail and food companies to commit to human rights standards monitored by workers. Furthermore, the CIW provides the Fair Food Program, helping thousands of workers to fight for their rights.