The exploitation of farmworkers should not be tolerated in Florida. It should not be tolerated anywhere in the United States. There are many social problems that are extremely difficult to solve. This is not one of them. – Eric Schlosser, investigative reporter and author of Fast Food Nation
Yesterday, at a packed Senate hearingon working conditions for tomato workers, Senator Bernie Sandersasked Detective Charlie Frost, investigator for the human trafficking unit at the Collier County Sheriff’s Office, “Do you believe that there is human trafficking happening in Florida agriculture as we speak right now?”
“It’s probably occurring right now while we sit here,” Frost said. “Almost assuredly it’s going on right now.”
“Detective, would you agree that in these slavery cases, there are people higher up the economic chain who are complicit and who benefit financially from what goes on?” Sanders asked. “[And if so,] do you believe we need to change the law to prevent the growers from shielding themselves from responsibility?”
“They isolate themselves from what is occurring, and they benefit from what’s going on,” Frost said. “We have to do something. We have to hold them accountable. This is occurring in their backyard, this is occurring in our fields, this is occurring in our country.”
Not a single Republican committee member was on hand to hear this or any of the other testimony that described slavery in the US in 2008; worker conditions that are – as Eric Schlosser put it – “like something you might encounter in the year 1868, not 2008”; or the loopholes in labor laws which allow systemic exploitation to continue. The “party of Lincoln” was simply MIA, while Sen. Sanders was joined by his Democratic colleagues, Senators Edward Kennedy, Richard Durbin, and Sherrod Brown.
Mary Bauer, Director of the Immigrant Justice Project at the Southern Law Poverty Center, testified that “for every [slavery] case we hear about, there are hundreds of other cases with similar kinds of power relationships… less dramatic but still incredibly oppressive circumstances that in effect amount to forced labor that are extremely common, and in fact close to the norm in many industries…. I do not believe that the American people would be comfortable if they knew how their food is being produced. They would not want to eat food that had been produced in this way.”