Immokalee farmworkers shine light on modern day slavery

The Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) are today's version of David, as in David and Goliath. CIW started in 1993 as a small group of southwest Florida farm workers discussing ways to better their lives. CIW has evolved into a 4,000 strong membership organization of Haitian, Mayan and Hispanic agricultural workers. They've tangled with industry giants like McDonald's, Burger King and Yum Brands through their Campaign for Fair Food, and secured a penny per pound wage increase for workers who harvest tomatoes used in Whoppers, Taco Bell tacos and the like.

CIW's latest effort is its Anti-Slavery Campaign. The effort was conceived by the farm workers and based on their own experiences with forced labor, abuse by bosses and poverty level wages. The campaign features a traveling modern-day slavery museum. The display is housed in a mid-size cargo truck, described as a replica of one used by the Navarrete family (who are now in federal prison.) These modern day slaveholders:

"...promised the Mexican and Guatemalan men work... [then] confiscated their IDs, tied, chained and beat them if they tried to leave. Although they advanced their victims "credit" for necessities, they didn't pay them for their work..."

CIW has assisted the Department of Justice in uncovering and assisting with the successful prosecution of the individuals responsible for these modern day slavery rings. CIW's efforts were featured prominently at an event with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton upon her department's release of its report on human trafficking.

The modern-day slavery museum is touring the east coast from July 25-August 16. It begins in Charlottesville, VA goes through Philly, New Jersey, NYC, and onto three locations in Massachusetts. CIW says the museum's objective is to expose the roots, reasons and solutions to slavery today, and overall seeks:

"...modern working conditions for farmworkers and promotes their fair treatment in accordance with national and international labor standards."

The farmworkers have set their sights on the ultimate Goliath: poverty and powerlessness.

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