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Labor Trafficking Can Lead to Stiff Penalties

February 23, 2003|From Associated Press

Federal officials have stepped up efforts to curb the trafficking of workers for cheap labor, which occurs most often in the garment and agricultural industries.

Trafficking involves some element of fraud, force or coercion in luring people to the U.S. and then keeping them here -- sometimes by holding their passports. It involves workers brought to this country both legally and illegally.

Among cases in recent years that have resulted in substantial penalties:

* In Hawaii, a jury is deliberating the case of three people accused of enslaving hundreds of Chinese and Vietnamese garment workers at the Daewoosa Samoa Ltd. factory in American Samoa. Last year, a court in American Samoa ordered the firm to pay $3.5 million to the workers, who often slept two to a bed and were sometimes beaten.

* In Florida last year, three citrus contractors were sentenced to lengthy prison terms for harboring hundreds of undocumented workers, threatening them with violence and holding them hostage over alleged $1,000 debts.

* In California in the 1990s, more than 70 Thai employees in an El Monte sweatshop worked 18-hour days for less than $2 an hour, imprisoned behind razor-wire fences and sleeping on roach-infested floors. That case resulted in prison terms and multimillion-dollar settlements.

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