How Agricultural Slavery Works in the United States
The continued existence of agricultural slavery might be hard to believe, but exist it does, and at a widespread levels across the globe.
What might be even more surprising, especially to American consumers, is the prevalence of slavery on farms across the United States. CIW – an anti-slavery and workers’ rights group based in Florida – estimates that, on a regular day, as many as 5% of American farm workers are forced laborers, working against their wills.
Farms do not and can not make the money they used to, and competition in most US food industries is fierce. Cutting corners has become the norm. But thankfully, even though the statistics are far too high, using slaves is still not an accepted practice in this country, to say the least.
Law enforcement has begun cracking down on indentured servitude on American farms, especially with the crime’s close connection to illegal immigration (most slaves on farms in the United States are of Mexican, Guatemalan, and Haitian descent, and many are illegal immigrants).
But it is important to note that the crime does not affect only undocumented workers. In the past few decades, when most American farm workers were legal citizens of the United States, the percentages remained at similar levels.
So yes, slave labor on American farms still does occur. Here is how it usually happens, although most slave-owning farmers use a variety of these practices:
1) False Promises
An American farmer travels to a developing nation and promises a group of interested workers free travel, visas, and steady employment in the US. Once the workers arrive, the farmer steals their papers and demands that they work, sometimes for 16-20 hours a day, in order to avoid deportation or arrest.
2) Abuse of the Homeless and Addicted
A farmer recruits from among the people most vulnerable to addiction, then constantly provides drugs and/or alcohol to the victim as a form of “debt” with exorbitant interest rates attached. The worker must labor on the farm in a constant state of servitude to pay back the debt.
3) Violence and Threats
A slave-owning farmer uses threats against the workers’ lives and families. Convicted farmers have been known to beat, violently assault and even shoot men and women who tried to escape. In one instance, a slave owner ran over an escaped worker with his car, claiming to own him.
4) Manipulation of Illegal Immigrants
Because illegal immigrants are already terrified of law enforcement, it is easier for the slave owner to keep them quiet. Illegal immigrant are thus recruited after crossing the border, and if found are often deported, even when the farmer is convicted of severely abusing them.
5) Constant Surveillance
Workers live in extremely tight quarters, often under armed guard. The farms usually have high fencing with barbed wire to prevent escape. Sometimes security teams tie the laborers up or lock them in the backs of moving trucks. Workers that escape might report the farmers, so they are hunted down with care and punished publicly if caught.
6) False Debts
In connection with the way farmers abuse addicted workers, they also make up false debts such as travel expenses, food, housing, taxes and social security. In an extreme example of wage theft, the worker loses any money they’ve earned, which was the farmer’s plan all along.
Learn more through some specific examples of this crime that have occurred recently on farms in Florida.
What can be done about this crime?
We’ll discuss solutions to the problem of agricultural slavery in tomorrow’s post. If you have any ideas to share in preparation, please leave them in the comments!