Monday, June 6, 2016

The Boys in The Bunkhouse: Another story of human slavery in the Heartland of America


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"In 1966, a pilot program at the Abilene State School in Texas moved six developmentally disabled men to a ranch run by T.H. Johnson, who agreed to teach the “boys,” as he called them, basic agricultural skills. They would be paid a pittance and board at the ranch, saving the state money and providing Johnson with a source of very cheap labor. Award-winning New York Times writer and columnist Barry (Bottom of the 33rd: Hope and Redemption in Baseball’s Longest Game, 2012, etc.) rivetingly chronicles the lives of these men and 26 more who worked for the irascible Johnson at his turkey processing plant in Texas and, later, in Atalissa, Iowa. From 1974 until 2009, Johnson’s workers, living in filthy, decrepit housing, were paid far below minimum wage, from which room and board were deducted; were denied medical and dental care; and were violently abused by their overseers. Every day, they caught, killed, and gutted turkeys, work, Barry writes, that was “hard…and repetitive, a bloody, filthy, feathery mess.” Along the way, a social worker discovered the “slave-labor camp” and reported the “human-rights horror” to the Iowa Department of Social Services only to be told that the company’s operation—a “for-profit business model with a paternalistic overlay of limited freedoms and routine discipline”—seemed legitimate."

For decades, Hill County Farms, also known as Henry's Turkey Service, housed a group of mentally disabled men in squalor in this former schoolhouse in Atalissa, Iowa. The EEOC won a judgment against the company for exploiting the men.
For decades, Hill County Farms, also known as Henry's Turkey Service, housed a group of mentally disabled men in squalor in this former schoolhouse in Atalissa, Iowa. 
The EEOC won a judgment against the company for exploiting the men.
John Schultz/Quad-City Times/

A 'Wake-Up Call' To Protect Vulnerable Workers From Abuse

Heard on NPR All Things Considered

Read and Listen to the complete report by Yuki Noguchi

Decades Of Abuse, For $2 Per Day
The men had worked at a nearby processing plant, gutting turkeys under the watchful eye of a contractor called Hill County Farms. The contractor was paid to oversee the men's work and living arrangements. The supervisors hit, kicked, handcuffed and verbally abused the men, who were each paid $2 per day. This went on for three decades, affecting 32 men.
Seehase says medical exams later revealed the men suffered from diabetes, hypertension, malnutrition, festering fungal infections and severe dental problems that had gone untreated.
It went on and on, she says, because the men knew nothing better and because no one reported the abuse.
"Their life experiences didn't tell them that there was really another option for them," Seehase says. "It's incredibly difficult to try to understand. And I have no explanation. And I don't know who can explain how this really happened."
Kenneth Henry, the owner of Hill County Farms, could not be reached and his attorney didn't respond to requests seeking comment. In testimony, Henry acknowledged paying the men $65 a month, but denied knowing about the neglect or abuse."


Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Walk Free Foundation: "Nearly 46 million people estimated to be enslaved worldwide is an increase of 28 percent"

Nearly 46 million people across the globe are living in modern slavery, a system of exploitation that governments and businesses must do more to end, according to the Walk Free Foundation.


The Walk Free Foundation was founded by Andrew and Nicola Forrest and encompasses their vision to end of modern slavery globally. Seed funded by the Forrests’ philanthropic vehicle the Minderoo Foundation, the initiative provides the information and capabilities required for countries to defeat slavery in their jurisdictions. We hope that you will join us in whatever way you can to help end modern slavery once and for all.

The Australia-based rights group on Tuesday released its global slavery index, which tracks the number of people stuck in "situations of exploitation that a person cannot refuse or leave because of threats, violence, coercion, abuse of power or deception." The instances include forced labor in farming, fishing and manufacturing, commercial sex work and forced marriage.

"Governments need to look more closely at illicit labor recruitment, crack down on the illegal companies that provide conduit in which people end up in slavery, and penalize the companies and individuals that are using bonded labor, either directly or in their supply chains," the group said in a statement. "At the same time, it is important that we tackle the conditions that drive labor migration by creating opportunities within home countries."

The survey, which was based on 42,000 interviews conducted in 25 countries, found that Asian countries were home to nearly 60 percent of the world’s modern slaves. India was the country with the highest number, 18.3 million, while North Korea had the highest proportion, with 4.3 percent of the population thought to be enslaved, the survey found.

The nearly 46 million people estimated to be enslaved worldwide is an increase of 28 percent from the group’s last survey, though it says that is likely due to better data collection and research methods. The group said progress had been made since its last report, with all countries in Asia except North Korea now having laws criminalizing some forms of modern slavery.

“I believe in the critical role of leaders in government, business and civil society,” Andrew Forrest, the billionaire chairman of the Walk Free Foundation, said in a statement. Forrest is the largest shareholder of iron ore producer Fortescue Metals Group. "Businesses that don’t actively look for forced labor within their supply chains are standing on a burning platform," Forrest said.