What is the first thought that comes to you when pondering slavery?

Perhaps what might come to mind is the Emancipation Proclamation, Frederick Douglas, Harriet Tubman, Underground Railroad to Freedom, the South, or some long gone civilization that had slavery as a central component of its structure that allowed it to prosper and maintain certain levels of comfort.

Most people will not consider forced labor, forced sexual exploitation, and forced marriage in 2018, in the 21st Century, in our cities, states, and our country even though slavery is alive and thriving in the Americas and in the world.

The International Labour Organization (ILO) estimates that at any given moment in 2016 there were 40.3 million slaves in the world, 24.9 million in forced labor, including forced sexual exploitation, and 15.4 million in forced marriages.

This means, according to the ILO, out of 1,000 people 5.9 are victims of modern day slavery.

According to the ILO one in four persons caught in modern day slavery are children.

Out of the 24.9 million people trapped in forced labor, 16 million are exploited in the private sector which includes domestic work, construction, and agriculture, 4.8 million persons in forced sexual exploitation and 4 million in forced labor imposed by governments.

The struggle for freedom continues. This is an epidemic and our economies, societies, and way of life benefit from super exploitation and modern-day slavery that accompanies it.

STC Symposium on Human Trafficking

For 13 years the Women’s Studies Committee at South Texas College, composed of faculty from STC, students, community members and faculty from UTRGV struggle for freedom and to end human trafficking by raising consciousness with a unique Symposium on Human Trafficking.

This year’s symposium takes place April 23 to April 25. For more information and links on the Symposium at the end of this article.

The keynote speaker this year is Fernando Garcia-Robles (pictured above) who will open the Symposium on Monday morning.  Fernando is the Anti Trafficking in Persons Coordinator for the Organization of American States. His opening presentation is titled “Mas Alla de la Frontera: Old and New Considerations” and will give us an update on what is happening in the Americas from the perspective of the Organization of American States.

Workers’ Rights Organizations at the Symposium

The majority of modern day slavery is a form of labor trafficking and of particular interest for those involved in fighting forced labor in the Rio Grande Valley, Texas, and beyond are three special guests from three amazing workers’ rights organization.  This year we have the honor of hosting representatives of Damayan Migrant Workers Association based in New York City, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers based in Immokalee, Florida, and the National Guestworkers Alliance coming out of the New Orleans Worker Center for Racial Justice.

From New York City, Riya Ortiz will present on the work she, her colleagues, and the thousands of Filipino Domestic Workers, that compose Damayan Migrant Rights Association, are engaged in to save Domestic Workers caught in forced labor situation and to support and develop leadership among Domestic Worker survivors of labor trafficking.

Damayan is one of several anchor organizations of the Beyond Survival Campaign of affiliated organizations with the National Domestic Worker AllianceFuerza del Valle Workers’ Center in South Texas is also an anchor of this campaign along with other workers’ rights organizations like the Miami Workers Center, the Labor Justice Committee in El Paso, the Pilipino Workers’ Centers in Los Angeles, Adhikaar in New York City, Matahari Womens’ Worker Center in Boston, Domesticas Unidas in San Antonio, and Casa de Maryland, and Fe y Justicia Worker Center in Houston.

Riya Ortiz talk will be on Tuesday from 9:30 – 10:00am and is titled “Hidden in Plain Sight: Labor Trafficking and Modern Day Slavery of Filipina Domestic Workers in New York City”

The Coalition of Immokalee Workers is a farmworker organization that began organizing in the mid-1990s and has unified Haitian, Guatemalan, and Mexican migrant farmworkers in the struggle to better the labor conditions and lives of farmworkers in southeast Florida.

Through their labor organizing the CIW has been instrumental in exposing and aiding the prosecution of nine modern day slavery cases in the agriculture industry in Florida a and has helped free over 1,200 farmworkers working against their will.

From the CIW website: “The U.S. Department of State credits the CIW with “pioneering” the worker-centered and multi-sectoral approach to prosecutions, and hails the CIW’s work on some of the earliest cases as the “spark” that ignited today’s national anti-slavery movement.”

The CIW is also known for the innovative worker driven social responsibility mechanism known as the Fair Food Program that has 14 corporations, growers, and farmworkers as partners to end sexual violence, modern day slavery, and alleviate poverty in the supply chain.

Cruz Salucio and Marley Moynihan will be presenting on April 23, 2018 1:50-2:20pm and is titled: “Uprooting Modern-Day Slavery in America’s Fields”.

Daniel Castellanos will talk about the organizing he and the members of the National Guestworkers Alliance (NGA) are engaged in for workplace dignity with guest workers.  The NGA has as part of its vision the belief that, “Guestworkers are protagonists in a vibrant social movement to expand the right to organize for all excluded workers, reversing a long legacy of retaliation against workers of color who organize to win dignity and freedom.”

NGA has exposed several labor trafficking cases involving guestworkers such as:

“In 2007, Aby Raju was one of over 500 pipefitters and welders from India who paid recruiters nearly $20,000 each, relying on promises of good work, a green card, and permanent residency for their families. Instead, they were held in forced labor by marine fabricator Signal International. The workers organized under the threat of deportation, and faced surveillance and retaliation from immigration authorities.

In 2011, Ionut Bilan and 400 more student guestworkers from around the world went on strike from the Hershey’s Chocolate packing plant in Palmyra, Pennsylvania, where they faced brutal conditions, sub-minimum wage pay, and threats of deportation. The positions they filled had previously been permanent, living-wage jobs with a union contract. Then Hershey’s used layers of subcontractors to replace them with a year-round succession of exploitable student guestworkers.

In 2012, Ana Rosa Diaz and fellow guestworkers from Mexico exposed forced labor at a Louisiana Walmart supplier called C.J.’s Seafood. Supervisors threatened to beat them with a shovel to make them work faster, and when they spoke up, the boss threatened violence against their families.

In March 2013, student guestworkers from around the world exposed exploitation at McDonald’s restaurants in Central Pennsylvania. They reported shifts of up to 25 hours straight with no overtime pay. They were made to live in substandard, employer-owned housing, and faced threats of deportation when they raised concerns, according to the National Guestworkers Alliance website.

Daniel Castellanos presents on April 23, 2018 from 1:20-1:50 pm. His presentation is titled: Mas Alla De La Frontera: Global Responses To Human Trafficking

The Symposium on Human Trafficking is free and will be livestreamed through a link on the website for those that cannot physically be there.  Interpretation will be available from English to Spanish and Spanish to English (some sessions will be in Spanish) for those physically present.

The Women’s Studies Committee, with the support of Hope Family Health Center provides Continued Education Units (CEUs) for social workers and Texas Commission on Law Enforcement (TCOLE) credits for law enforcement with the support of San Juan Police Department.   This is done to raise consciousness among professionals who potentially will encounter survivors of human trafficking or people trapped in a trafficking situation.

This is the thirteenth year the symposium will be held and will consist of over 50 presenters from all over the world, from El Salvador, Nepal, Spain, New York City, D.C., Immokalee, Florida, New Orleans, the Rio Grande Valley, Mexico, Reynosa, Monterrey, etc.  The presenters all work on some aspect of fighting and exposing human trafficking, worker exploitation, and/or migrant rights defense.

Over 250 people are registered for the symposium this year and every year hundreds attend the symposium.

Last year’s symposium is available in its entirety solely through these links:

New Models in Human Trafficking in the 21st Century Day 1

New Models in Human Trafficking in the 21st Century Day 2

Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying the above guest column shows Fernando Garcia-Robles, keynote speaker at the 2018 South Texas College Human Trafficking Conference.