Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Mobile Modern-Day Slavery Museum Opens in Florida

The Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) has come up with a creative and cost-effective way to educate Floridians that real slavery is still happening in their state -- a mobile educational museum dedicated to the topic. The free exhibition will tour the state, teaching about historical and current slavery and forced labor in the state's vast agricultural industry. But unlike a traditional museum, this one will actually offer solutions and actions Floridians can take to end slavery in their state.

Farm workers in Florida, most of whom are migrants, experience varying levels of exploitation in their industry, ranging from low wages and poor conditions to outright slavery. And when I say slavery, I mean slavery -- work for no pay under the threat of violence with the inability to leave.

Slavery in Florida is not limited to a few isolated incidences or a few "bad apple" companies. As leading modern-day slavery expert Kevin Bales put it, "There has never been a day in the history of Florida agriculture without some amount of slavery tainting the food grown there. That food leaves the hands of slaves and ends up in the meals we eat with our families."

One of the crops which has received the most attention for using slave labor is tomatoes. The Coalition of Immokalee Workers has been working for years to get companies to create zero-tolerance policies against buying tomatoes from companies that use slave labor and to improve wages and conditions for tomato pickers. Thus far, they've been successful in getting Whole Foods, Subway, McDonald’s, Burger King, and Yum! Brands, among others, to sign on. Currently, CIW is pushing Florida-based supermarket chain Publix to ban slave-grown tomatoes from their stores.

The new mobile modern-day slavery museum will be one tool they use to inspire consumers to demand action from Publix and other companies. It will also showcase the harshness of modern-day slavery; the museum is a cargo truck similar to that in which two workers were enslaved in. Family members locked those workers in truck when they were not working, and forced them to pay $5 to bathe. However, the only bathing facilities provided was a garden hose in the backyard. Workers in Florida have also faced beatings, threats of deportation, and sexual assault during their captivity.

You can check out a schedule of the museum's stops here. The tour will end with a march to Publix headquarters in Lakeland, Florida, to demand fair wages and a zero tolerance policy for slavery from the company.

article at End Human Trafficking

Photo credit: willsfca