Thursday, August 15, 2013

Think Human Trafficking Doesn't Happen in the States? Think Again

And you think you’ve got problems.

Shipbuilder Signal International, which already has been sued like, a gazillion times, is being sued again.

The charge? Human trafficking.

Oh, it’s wicked, what Signal is accused of having done.

The lawsuits allege that Signal, working in cahoots with a group of recruiters, defrauded foreign workers out of millions of dollars in "recruitment fees" (in some cases as much as $25,000 per worker) and lied about its intention to help the workers apply for and obtain permanent residence in the States.

(In a previous post, I joked that I don’t like recruiters because they sell people for a living. Who knew how right I was?)

But that’s not all. Workers also claim to have been trapped in an unholy "man-camp," where they were fed—and forced to pay for—bug-infested food.  

Last May, three federal lawsuits were filed against Signal on behalf of eighty workers. A few days ago, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) announced that five more lawsuits on behalf of sixty workers had been filed, and that’s in addition to a suit being filed by the EEOC. And all of that is separate from a lawsuit filed in 2008.

According to Courthouse News Services, Signal hired hundreds of foreign workers on the cheap to help rebuild properties damaged in Hurricane Katrina. 

Well, actually, the labor was beyond cheap—it was free.

“An April 18, 2006 'Skilled Worker Recruitment Agreement' between Signal and [defendant] Global [Resources, Inc.] that set this scheme in motion expressly stated that the workers would be delivered at no cost to Signal and that all other charge, expenses and fees would be paid by the workers themselves or by Global, who in turn would be reimbursed through deduction from the plaintiffs' wages. In short, defendants paid for nothing; the future employees paid everything.”

Listen, I don’t want to get all “overly dramatic” here, but this is diabolical.

Clearly, I’m not the only one who’s outraged.

At least half a dozen law firms (some working with the Southern Poverty Law Centerhave gotten into the action, as has the American Civil Liberties Union, the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, the Louisiana Justice Institute, the Equal Justice Center, and University of Texas Law School Transnational Worker Rights Clinic.

Signal has shipyards in Mississippi, Texas, and Alabama and is a subcontractor for several major multinational companies.

According to Daniel Werner, SPLC senior supervising attorney:
“These cases highlight the urgent need for stronger foreign labor recruiter regulations and better protections for workers – some of which are included in the U.S. Senate’s comprehensive immigration reform bill.”

A SPLC video in which a foreign worker describes his experiences while with a tomato packing operation can be found here.


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