Biting the Hand that Feeds: Labor Trafficking in Florida’s Agricultural Sector

One of the nation’s largest produce suppliers is also ground zero for human trafficking in the United States.

As the Christian Science Monitor reports in its continuing series exploring modern day slavery, labor trafficking is endemic in Florida especially in the agricultural industry. Unfortunately, this is not unusual in our nation’s agricultural sector, where trafficked farm workers suffer horrific working conditions, brutality at the hands of supervisors, withholding of wages, and threats of deportation. Such brazen abuse in a U.S.-based industry worth $226 billion annually is indicative, then, that more must be done.

In south central Florida, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers has been a leader in anti-trafficking efforts in the farm industry for over 20 years. As part of three-pronged strategy, they bring farmers, farmworkers and retail food companies together to protect the most vulnerable workers from forced labor, substandard wages, and dehumanizing work environments. They have rescued over 1,200 victims to date trapped in forced labor through their Anti-Slavery Campaign, and have improved standards through their Fair Food Program and Campaign for Fair Food.

In Florida, however, trafficking is not limited to the agricultural sector. It affects numerous parts of the state’s economy, demanding a number of state and non-state actors to fight it.

One hundred fifty miles to the north, in Tampa Bay, the Clearwater/Tampa Bay Area Task Force on Human Trafficking serves as a tool for communication and strategic collaboration between law enforcement and service providers, making it an essential component in Florida’s anti-trafficking efforts. Gulfcoast Legal Services, a member of the taskforce, recently received a $600,000 grant from the Department of Justice (DOJ).

Announcing the grant, Representative Kathy Castor (FL-14) summed up the seriousness of the problem and the importance of a unified approach to combating it.

“Sex and labor traffickers prey on our vulnerable neighbors. This grant will provide more tools to Gulfcoast Legal Services and local law enforcement to aid victims of human trafficking. Gulfcoast now will be able to serve more than double the number of clients than previous years and will spur on the important work of the Tampa Bay Area Task Force on Human Trafficking.”

The group is a key component of a state-wide effort. In Miami-Dade county, the human trafficking task force works tirelessly to aid victims and put their abusers behind bars.

Joint efforts between civil society organizations such as the Gulfcoast Legal Services, business leaders from multiply industries, and local and federal law enforcement agencies are essential to ending the scourge of human trafficking. The new DOJ grant will help victims build new lives free from forced labor, but by working together these groups can ensure that former victims are not replaced with new ones.

For more information on Human Rights First’s effort to bankrupt slavery, read our blueprint, How to Dismantle the Business of Human Trafficking.


Published on November 24, 2015


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