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Exploited Labor: News & Updates

News Article

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. 

News Article

More than a 1000 Honduran construction workers building the new U.S. Embassy complex in Tegucigalpa, Honduras have been on strike for over 4 months now. They are demanding fair payment,  a safe workspace and for the contractor to respect their human rights.  The state and the construction company are reacting with all of their power, firing strike leaders and bringing in riot police, tanks and sharpshooters. Learn how you can support the striking workers in the article below. 

News Article

Since the Colombian peace treaty in 2016, many veterans of the civil war have taken part in a reincorporation program; many are being trained to become security guards. A multitude of security guards, including ex-combatants being retrained through the reincorporation process,  seek representation by joining  The Memoria Viva (Living Memory) Union of security guards. Following the rise of the union, many have become targets, leading to six killings of union leaders and intimidation actions. 

The article below contains an interview explaining the struggles the union is going through as well as asking for support for its work. 

News Article

Even though Halloween is past, another holiday season is almost knocking on the door and will push chocolate sales once more. Reason enough to shed light on the crooked dealings of the chocolate industry. 

The chocolate industry has been growing rapidly during the last few years and is expected to become a 180 billion USD industry by 2025. But this immense growth comes at a heavy price for the cocoa farmers and their families in the Global South who work for a minimal income to provide cheap chocolate for us. 

Next to the daily struggle to make ends meet, which drives up to 1.5 million children onto the fields in West Africa and Latin America, this industry poisons its workers.

More and more (small) farms have been giving into the pressure and have started using heavily hazardous pesticides as a means to maximize their yields. 

Due to weak regulations, Africa and South/Central America are lucrative markets for these pesticides, many of which are illegal in the United States and the EU. These bans don't exist without a reason. The pesticides can cause acute poisoning and chronic health issues. 

Especially children, pregnant women and their unborn are endangered by the chemicals. Adding to this is a lack of information about potential hazards which can arise and protective equipment for the workers on the fields. 

You can find more on the dangers of chemical pesticides, exploitation of the chocolate farmers and how you can help in the following article. The article also provides a table rating of different manufacturers and gives examples of fair and organic produced chocolate. 

News Article

On behalf of IRTF’s Rapid Response Network (RRN) members, we wrote six letters this month to heads of state and other high-level officials in Colombia, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Mexico, urging their swift action in response to human rights abuses occurring in their countries.  We join with civil society groups in Latin America to: (1) protect people living under threat, (2) demand investigations into human rights crimes, (3) bring human rights criminals to justice.

IRTF’s Rapid Response Network (RRN) volunteers write six letters in response to urgent human rights cases each month. We send copies of these letters to US ambassadors, embassy human rights officers, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, regional representatives of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and desk officers at the US State Department. To read the letters, see , or ask us to mail you hard copies.

News Article

For the second consecutive day, workers at the textile maquila Gildan, in the Nance River Sector, Choloma, department of Cortés, are on strike demanding their labor rights and other agreements, especially a salary readjustment. The workers are also demanding the right to establish a workers' union that truly represents them. Members of the National Police went to Gildan's facilities in Choloma to talk with the protesters, who continue with the gates closed and say that they will not let the loaded trucks enter.