Signal International Apologizes to Trafficking Victims
Signal International, a maritime company that reached a $20 million settlement in July over 12 labor trafficking lawsuits, apologized last week as part of the settlement agreement. “Signal was wrong in failing to ensure that the guest workers were treated with the respect and dignity they deserved,” the company said. “Signal deeply regrets the living conditions the guest workers were subjected to, and is sorry for its actions.”
Through the federal H-2B visa program, which allows guest workers to enter the United States for a range of low-paying jobs, Signal International hired nearly 500 men from India to repair Gulf Coast oil rigs following hurricanes Katrina and Rita. The guest workers paid labor recruiters upwards of $20,000 each in recruitment and processing fees and arrived in Texas in 2006 expecting gainful employment, green cards, and permanent residency for their families. Instead, they were each made to pay $1,050 a month to live in severely overcrowded, guarded labor camps. After enduring isolation and poor conditions in the “man camps,” abuse and intimidation from Signal’s security forces, and a constant environment of hostility, the workers began to protest in 2008.
The 12 lawsuits that followed comprised one of the largest human trafficking cases ever litigated in the United States. Signal International has since declared bankruptcy.
Signal is only one of many companies that have had to make reparations for unscrupulous labor practices. Earlier this year Apple required its suppliers to reimburse foreign assembly line workers for “excessive recruitment fees,” which the company acknowledged create “an unjust system that places contract workers in debt before they even begin their jobs.” Apple also helped reimburse 30,000 workers for a total of almost $21 million in recruitment fees.
Companies should proactively put strong policies and procedures in place to prevent worker exploitation. A recent string of consumer class action law suits should alert complacent companies to the risks of lax monitoring, and push them to follow the example of Apple and other companies that have started eliminating recruiters entirely.