Greater Cincinnati Human Trafficking Report Findings Released

The Greater Cincinnati Human Trafficking Report is the first of its kind. A year-long study of human trafficking in Cincinnati and the Tri-state area, led by the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center has found, based on some 140 interviews with law enforcement personnel, judges, social workers, healthcare providers, government leaders and other affected parties, several areas of concern:

  • Lack of awareness about the problem both in the general public and among people who deal with it, such as police officers, judges and first responders
  • Inadequate legislation
  • Lack of training to help law enforcement identify victims.

More than 90% of the report’s interviewees say they are aware of trafficking happening locally, and just under half said they or their organizations have encountered victims directly. The report does not state the exact number of confirmed cases in the area, but it does note that many cases go undocumented.

“Trafficking cases are underreported both locally and nationally,” said Deborah Lydon, an attorney from Dinsmore & Shohl who helped spearhead the study. “Our first responders and social service providers acknowledged that they need better training to identify cases.”

In addition to inadequate training, the report says that existing laws and regulations covering trafficking are not streamlined and often come with weak penalties. States in our region also treat the crime differently: In Kentucky and Indiana, trafficking is a distinct crime, but in Ohio, it’s not.

The report offers two main conclusions for how the region should prepare for dealing with human trafficking: Focus on public awareness and training, and use benchmark statutes from other cities that would define
trafficking as a crime.

The Freedom Center was assisted on the project by more than 30 volunteers in the community including attorneys, law students, paralegals, and individuals from non-profit organizations interested in justice issues.

Read the press release.

Tafficking In Men On The Rise

Trafficking tends to bring to mind images of women in sex slavery. Images of men held in slavery are more rare. According to the latest report by the U.S. State Department, trafficking in men is significantly on the rise. In 2006, men made up six percent of trafficked adults. By 2008, that figure had risen to 45 percent.

According to a piece on The Houston Chronicle, Kenneth Wolfe, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, attributed the increase to an uptick in labor-trafficking cases. Seventy-six percent of all human-trafficking victims certified in 2008 were victims of labor trafficking, he said, while sex trafficking accounted for 17 percent. Five percent of victims were subject to both forms of trafficking.

Maritza Conde-Vazquez, a special agent with the Houston FBI who specializes in human-trafficking cases, said there has been an increase locally in the number of male human-trafficking victims, primarily from Central and South America. The majority of the cases, she said, involve forced labor at construction sites or in agriculture. She said she could not discuss details of the cases, which are still under investigation.

Conde-Vazquez also attributed the growth in the number of male victims in part to an overall increase in human trafficking. The State Department estimates that 17,500 people are trafficked into the United States each year, but the vast majority are never identified as victims.

Maria Trujillo, executive director of Houston Rescue & Restore Coalition, which helps human-trafficking victims, said the actual number of male victims is most likely significantly higher than reported.

“Male victims are really under-reported,” Trujillo said. “I think there’s just a bigger stigma for men. Some see (reporting) it as losing face, or just take it as their lot in life.”

What To a Slave is the 4th of July?

In 1852, Fredrick Douglass issued his famous speech What To a Slave is the 4th of July? Here is an excerpt to keep in mind as we celebrate the holiday:

What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer: a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelly to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciations of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade, and solemnity, are, to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy – a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices, more shocking and bloody, than are the people of these United States, at this very hour.

Go where you may, search where you will, roam through all the monarchies and despotisms of the old world, travel through South America, search out every abuse, and when you have found the last, lay your facts by the side of the everyday practices of this nation, and you will say with me, that, for revolting barbarity and shameless hypocrisy, America reigns without a rival.

Via End Human Trafficking.

Virginia Man Forces Some 24 Women Into Slavery

In October of last year, Soripada Lubis was taken into custody for forcing almost two dozen women into slavery.

The story is familiar: he promised them a way to stay in the country after their visas had expired or lured them away from legal employers with financial rewards, confiscated their passports and threatened kill their families in Indonesia and alert immigration officials if the women tried to run. He put them to work as live-in housekeepers at other homes in the area. Given the weekends off, Lubis charged them between $300 and $350 monthly, to live in his one-story home, where they often had to share beds.

It been reported that the scheme has been going on since at least 2000 and that during the last five years, Lubis has made more than $90,000.

Authorities learned of Lubis in 2006, when a relative of a woman living in his basement contacted U.S. diplomats in Jakarta, Indonesia, seeking help. Over the next two years, authorities met with four women who said they had lived with Lubis at various times starting in 2001.

Soripada Lubis was charged with conspiracy to harbor illegal immigrants and released on bail, with the order to stay at his residence.

On February 25, Lubis plead guilty today to harboring illegal aliens for commercial advantage and private financial gain. His wife, Siti Chadidjah Siregar, a citizen of Indonesia, pleaded guilty to making false statements to federal agents who were investigating the scheme.

Lubis faces up to 10 years in prison as well as an order to pay restitution. Siregar faces up to five years in prison at sentencing.

Read more in Forced labor operation busted by Freeman Klopott at The Washington Examiner and on the Examiner.

Founder of Not For Sale Shares Views

This Examiner interview offers an interesting look at David Batstone, the founder and President of Not for Sale, one of the biggest organizations in the US fighting to abolish modern slavery.

What compelled you initially to become involved in the anti-slavery movement? How did it all begin?

There were two parts, really: the personal and the immediate. Personally, there was my faith, which asked me to think about others. What am I called to do? That answer was to advocate for those who are vulnerable. In my 20’s, I was involved in Central America, intervening for those in need. That work set me up for what I’m doing now.

The immediate happened when I discovered that my favorite restaurant in San Francisco used slaves. One thing led to another. I then took a year off, traveled the globe, and investigated slavery.

Read the whole thing here.

The Recession’s Silent Victims

The Wall Street Journal echoes what I’ve been saying:

In today’s global economic downturn, there’s at least one business that’s expanding: modern-day slavery.

That’s the main message of the U.S. Department of State’s annual report on Trafficking in Persons, released last week in Washington. The document is always a disturbing read, but it is especially so this year. Between April 2008 and March 2009, State found an uptick in slavery in almost every corner of the world.

Human bondage is by nature a shady business, so it’s impossible to attribute any one factor to this trend. Ambassador Luis CdeBaca, who heads State’s study, points to the increasing desperation of poor people to find work and the eagerness of unscrupulous employers to cut costs. The International Labor Organization estimates that private enterprises or agents made $31.6 billion in 2005 from forced-labor victims.

Sustainable Food Leaders Write to Chipotle CEO

For the Coaliton of Immokalee Workers:

June 15, 2009

Mr. Steve Ells, CEO
Chipotle Mexican Grill
1404 Wynkoop St., Ste. 500
Denver, CO 80202-1729

Dear Mr. Ells,

We write with admiration for your efforts to create a socially just and environmentally responsible restaurant chain. We applaud your goal of sourcing “food with integrity,” food that’s “unprocessed, seasonal, family-farmed, sustainable, nutritious, naturally raised, added hormone free, organic, and artisanal.” Chipotle points the way to a new business model for national-scale restaurant chains: rather than scouring the globe for the cheapest commodities, restaurants should source in a region-appropriate way – bolstering and not undercutting regional food production networks.

Yet for us, naturally raised meat – important as it is – does not trump decently treated human beings. We are outraged by the working and living conditions we have seen in the Immokalee area of Florida, source of some 90 percent of the winter tomatoes consumed in the United States. Many of us have visited Immokalee, and see it as a stark example of the vast power discrepancies in our food system. In the winter-tomato market, a small number of very large buyers dictate terms to the seven or eight entities that control land in tomato country; those growers, in turn, squeeze the workers in brutal fashion. Real wages have fallen dramatically in Immokalee over the decades and now hover well below poverty level; housing conditions would not be out of place in apartheid-era South Africa. These are the normal conditions, experienced by thousands of workers in south Florida. No one can be surprised that in some extreme cases, right now, some of the people who pick our tomatoes are living in what can only be called modern-day slavery: held against their will and forced to harvest tomatoes without pay. In this context, Chipotle cannot claim the same integrity for the tomatoes it serves as it does for its meat, much less guarantee its customers that the tomatoes in its burritos were not picked by slaves.

We realize that Chipotle has announced that it’s paying an extra penny per pound for tomatoes, but we have to ask: What has Chipotle done since that announcement to identify and cultivate growers who are willing to raise their labor standards and pass the penny along to their workers? Your company has shown admirable leadership in working with – and incubating – meat suppliers willing to meet your higher standards. But your failure to do that same hard work in the Florida tomato industry – together with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) – threatens to render your announcement an empty gesture aimed more at public relations damage control than an effort to make real change.

We view the CIW’s struggle for dignity as a non-negotiable part of the struggle for a sustainable food system. Therefore, we strongly urge you to enter into an agreement with this worker-led organization that has been fighting tirelessly to improve conditions in tomato country since 1993. As you know, the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange has acted to block the penny-per-pound raise agreed to by McDonald’s, Yum Brands, Burger King and others, by threatening to fine any grower who cooperates with the buyers and the CIW. The extra penny paid out by these companies now sits in an escrow account, and workers in the fields continue making the same dismal wage. The growers clearly fear the power tomato pickers have galvanized through the efforts of the CIW and Chipotle’s refusal to sign an agreement with the CIW only bolsters the growers’ intransigence.

Last month, another national-scale food company with a social mission, Bon Appetit, signed a far-reaching deal with CIW that goes well beyond the penny per pound raise. We urge you to study the CIW-Bamco agreement and step up your efforts to identify growers – big or small – who will work with you to make “food with integrity” truly “fair food.”

If Chipotle is sincere in its wishes to reform its supply chain, the time has come to work with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers as a true partner in the protection of farmworkers rights.