Professor addresses forced labor in Latin America

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Coffee bean plantations can exploit workers, he said.

By Janie Medelez

Forced labor exists in Latin America today, and it’s not uncommon to see small children working in plantations around the clock, using equipment when they’re injured and missing fingers and limbs without their parents to help them, criminal justice Professor Marshall B. Lloyd said to about 15 students Nov. 13 at the Wesley Foundation Hot Potato lecture.

“This is a huge problem within the Americas ,and for the most part, it really isn’t being addressed all that much,” Lloyd said.

Without government to inspect, enforce sanctions and investigate, there is no real enforcement mechanism, he said.

In a slide presentation, Lloyd explained that as of 2016, 3.6 percent of the estimated 1.9 million people were living in some form of modern slavery in the Americas.

He cited the 2018 Global Slavery Index produced by the Walk Free Foundation for that information. The region also accounted for 4 percent of all victims of forced sexual exploitation worldwide, he said.

He noted that the majority of the problems of forced labor are in Brazil, Argentina, Guatemala and El Salvador.

Guatemala coffee bean plantations are a common area for internal migrants, he said.

Typically, indigenous Mayans are driven by poverty to travel to other parts of the country with their entire families and hired by middlemen who find work for them on coffee plantations in exchange for either a fixed price per worker or for a percentage of their wages.

Men, women and children all living in the same area together, lie pressed against each other directly on the cold floor in one large concrete building without outer walls called a “galera,” with around-the-clock guards there to protect the plantation owner, not to protect the workers, he said.

The coffee bean plantations are many miles away from urban areas and away from the farming industries of the agriculture-based industries.

It’s not uncommon to find individuals disappearing through Latin America. It’s an ongoing problem, particularly for the workers out there.

Lloyd reviewed the lack of governance mechanisms and rule of law.

Investigators who monitor or investigate complaints are discouraged to go out and are threatened. Some fear being killed and so there is a scarce presence of government on the farms.

Guatemala has one of the highest civilian murder rates in the world. In 2014, 96 Guatemalans were murdered per week on average.

According to the Overseas Security Advisory Council, an agency of the U.S. Department of State, the extremely high murder rate can be attributed in part to the unwillingness and or inability of Guatemala’s police and judicial system to bring criminals to justice, he said.

“Laborers are scared about the violence and for their family members,” he said.

They are not unionizing or contesting the conditions they live in, and many are charged for the living conditions out of their pay, Lloyd said.

“So, you see where there’s extreme exploitation,” he said.

In Latin America, an estimated 60 percent of child labor takes place in the agricultural industry. In the banana plantations of Ecuador, flower farms in Colombia and sugarcane plantations in El Salvador, children are routinely used as cheap farm labor, he said.

There is only so much pressure that can be applied to some of these countries because of a weak economy and flimsy government apparatus to respond to issues.

“What could be done in an organized way within the Western Hemisphere would be reporting, monitoring of forced labor. The mechanism would have to be in place in the countries in order to make it work,” Lloyd said.

Companies such as Chiquita would be expected to assist in the monitoring of the products they are getting. Are they from forced labor or not?

He noted the Inter-American Court on Human Rights will decide its first case related to slave labor in a suit brought to the regional tribunal by the anti-slavery campaign of Brazilian Patrol Land Commission and the Center of Justice and International Law, a human rights NGO.

In light of the lack of Brazil compliance, the case went to the Inter-American Court and has been there for the last past three years, he said.

This a slow moving process and complex in terms of the actors involved in trying to get Brazil to comply, Lloyd said.

Lloyd asked the students to consider when shopping during winter months and finding apples, oranges and all kind of fruits that are out of season but coming in from Latin America: How much are you consuming in terms of the results of forced labor or exploited labor?


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