Yesterday saw the sentencing of two members of the Navarrete family of Immokalee, involved in the seventh farm-labor operation to be prosecuted in federal court for slavery in Florida in the past 11 years and probably one of the clearest examples of slavery in the country.
But Florida Department of Agriculture spokesman Terence McElroy doesn’t seem to think there really is a problem. As he told The News-Press last week, “Of course, I say any instance is too many, and any legitimate grower certainly does not engage in that activity (slavery), but you’re talking about maybe a case a year.”
In an open letter to Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, human-rights advocates—including the executive director of Amnesty International, the Presbyterian Church of the U.S.A. and members of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers—wrote, “Tolerating a little modern-day slavery is like tolerating a little murder or accepting a little child abuse. … Mr. McElroy is quick to defend Florida growers who have, for too long, prospered through willful ignorance of conditions in their own fields.”
(Read the letter in PDF form!)
McElroy said the article did not accurately represent him and clarified via e-mail:
“Our department, all growers we know of and virtually everyone else in our industry abhors instances of forced labor — and advocate as tough a prosecution as possible for anyone violating the law,” McElroy wrote. “To a question (about) whether this was a common or accepted practice, I said that it certainly was not — and, in fact, is quite a rarity when a case pops up.”
Crist’s office didn’t respond to telephone and e-mail requests for comment, and Florida Department of Agriculture Commissioner Charles Bronson could not be reached.
Read the whole article here.