Forced Labor on American Shores
Published: July 8, 2012
It is time to banish the idea that forced labor and sweatshop exploitation are problems of bygone eras or distant countries. These conditions exist within America’s borders. On June 29, Wal-Mart said it had suspended one of its seafood suppliers in Louisiana for violating its workplace standards. The action came as an advocacy group for foreign guest workers announced that it had uncovered appalling abuses at the company, C. J.’s Seafood, and at a dozen other Wal-Mart suppliers too.
The workers said the company forced them to work 16- to 24-hour days, and 80-hour weeks, at illegally low rates, sometimes locked in the plant, peeling crayfish until their hands felt dead. Some were threatened with beatings. Federal agencies and Wal-Mart are investigating the charges; C. J.’s Seafood did not respond to The Times’s request for comment.
These workers are not unauthorized immigrants toiling off the books. They came here legally under the H-2B program, which grants visas to low-skilled seasonal workers in industries that supposedly cannot find enough Americans to do the job. The program has been dogged by charges of wage abuses, fraud and involuntary servitude, including in investigations by the Government Accountability Office.