Source: Deutsche Presse-Agentur
Section: International News
Date: February 19, 1999, Friday, BC Cycle 13:19 Central European Time
Length: 1276 words
Copyright: Copyright 1999 Deutsche Presse-Agentur
Headline: RPT FEATURE: Slave labour not uncommon in richest country on
Byline: By Holger Schmale, dpa
WASHINGTON-- Maria is about 60 years old and comes from Brazil. The last
19 years she has lived in a roomy villa in the affluent Washington D.C.
suburb Chevy Chase - and was treated like a slave. All that time, Maria was
working as a maid for a Brazilian businessman and his family. They beat
her, provided bad food, forced her to wear shabby clothes and refused to
let her off the property.
Yeshehareg is from Ethiopia. A compatriot who was working at the
headquarters of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) brought her to
Washington D.C. eight years ago to work as his maid. He forced her to work
seven days a week, isolated her from other Ethiopians by threatening her
with violence should she contact them, and when she complained, he beat
her. Her salary: 3 cents an hour.
Another Maria, from the Philippines, found her way to Washington three
years ago with the help of a friend. She was supposed to work as nanny for
a family of Filipino diplomats, earning 20 dollars for a 40 hour week. The
family forced her to work a 116-hour week and paid her 1.70 dollars an
These are just three examples of modern slavery in the United States, as
investigated and uncovered by the Washington Post.
According to various civil rights organisations, churches and lawyers, such
cases are not rare. Each year, thanks to a special Immigration and
Naturalisation Service (INS) regulation some 3,800 domestic servants are
brought into the United States every year by diplomats and employees of
organisations like the World Bank and IMF. Many of these servants are
treated well by their employers. Others are not.
What they all have in common is that they are totally dependent on their
employers, to whom their own visas and work permits are tied. So if they
ever manage to complain to the police such people are almost always
The IMF and World Bank pretend to be helpless: They can only request that
their employees treat and pay their servants properly, but have no way of
checking whether such requests are met. The same is also true - only more
so - of diplomats, who are immune from prosecution in their host country,
regardless of the charges.
But the problem of slave labour is by no means limited to the cities of
Washington and New York, home to the IMF, the World Bank, the United
Nations and numerous embassies. Scandals about abused domestic servants
regularly make the newspaper headlines in the United States.
In Los Angeles, police released 70 Thai women, who were chained up and
forced to work in a sweatshop where they made clothes.
In New York, authorities arrested the ringleaders of a gang that imprisoned
60 deaf and dumb Mexicans in two apartments only letting them out to go and
beg for money.
In Florida, authorities broke up a Mexican gang that used false promises to
lure some 20 young Mexican women to the United States, where they were put
to work as prostitutes in migrant worker camps.
Some of the women were just 14. They were treated like slaves, raped and
beaten. The United States has to banish such cases of modern slavery from
the front pages of the newspapers and from the history books, Attorney
General Janet Reno said after the scandal became public.
But such appeals are not much good. Only recently, attorneys have filed
lawsuits claiming exploitation against leading clothes manufacturers such
as Tommy Hilfinger, Gap and Oshkosh and leading U.S. department stores.
The attorneys are acting on behalf of 50,000 men and women from China, the
Philippines, Bangladesh and Thailand who are forced to work 70 hours a week
in crowded camps set up on the Mariana Islands, a U.S. dependency in the
Protests against such production methods are increasing in the United
States. Students at George Washington University in Washington D.C. and
Duke University in North Carolina recently protested that the colleges
business partners did not always reveal where the popular T-shirts and
baseball caps bearing the universities' seals are made.
"But that's important to know, so we can be sure that no one is exploited
in the name of our university," said Kyle Crafton, who helped organise the
protests. Reno takes a similar view and has set up a task force to focus on
the issue of modern day slave labour. dpa ma jp
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