It is conventional wisdom that slavery is a thing of the past. It is emblematic of an era that we reflect back upon and decry “never again”. But is it really a thing of the past or has the face and form of slavery changed since the Emancipation Proclamation?
The imprints of the largest U.S. human trafficking case occurs not far from where I live and study. It is a lucrative industry and was cited as the most profitable and second largest criminal activity in the world. For those of you who do not know, six recruiters from Global Horizons, an international labor contract firm based in Beverley Hills, were indicted for coercing over 400 Thai farm workers into conditions of modern day slavery last September. And guess what? It was legal. Global Horizons did not have to circumvent the law to enslave these people. Instead, they recruited foreign farm workers through the agricultural guest worker program, also known as H-2A. These workers were forced into debt and some had to pay as much as $21,000, which is what the average Thai person earns in a period of three years. Of course, these fees were not reported to US labor officials and were extra profits that the firm earned. They were also threatened to be arrested or deported back to Thailand if they went to the authorities.
What were the conditions like?
Some were taken to abandoned barracks with few ammentities. Workers were promised minimum wage but found themselves earning much less with little to no health provisions. Some lived in freight containers in farms all over the country and did not have access to electricity, running water, or toilets.
What is being done?
In order to address this prevalent issue, the Thai Community Development Center (Thai CDC), a nonprofit addresses the needs of disadvantaged and vulnerable Thais in Los Angeles, launched a new project called the Slavery Eradication and Rights Initiative (SERI) Project on March 7th, 2011 to replace their anti-human trafficking services program and operation rescue and restore that they have offered for the past sixteen years. The word “seri” in Thai also means freedom. Currently, Thai CDC is the only organization that is culturally adept to address the multi-dimensional needs of these victims. The SERI Project aims to provide the continued support and services to these victims in the midst of Congressional budget cuts and a stagnant economy.
What can I do?
Take action first by educating yourself and those around you about this issue. We are a part of the solution.
To learn more about the SERI (Slavery Eradication and Rights Initiative) Project: http://www.seriproject.org/
To learn more about the Thai Community Development Center: