Statements by human rights groups on forced labour in Florida, USA - Dec 2008

A 14 December 2008 article in the Fort Myers, Florida, News-Press, "Specter of slavery persists in fields", quoted a state official on the problem of forced labour in Florida agriculture:

Terence McElroy, spokesman for the state's Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, which licenses farm labor contractors...[said] "Of course, I say any instance is too many, and any legitimate grower certainly does not engage in that activity (slavery) but you're talking about maybe a case a year"...

Numerous human rights and labour groups responded to this comment; their comments are summarised in this 19 December News-Press article

Links to the full statements:

"An Open Letter to Gov. Charlie Crist [of Florida]", 17 Dec 2008, signed by U.S. Human Rights Network, Center for Constitutional Rights, Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice & Human Rights, and 62 other human rights, labour, environmental & anti-poverty organizations, religious groups & figures, scholars & authors [as of 19 Dec]:

Mr. McElroy’s gross disregard for even the most severe abuses committed against farmworkers speaks volumes about why modern-day slavery continues to flourish, and why Florida has been called “ground-zero” for modern-day slavery by Florida’s U.S. Attorney: the Florida office responsible for overseeing the agricultural industry believes that a little slavery is OK.

Tolerating a little modern-day slavery is like tolerating a little murder or accepting a little child abuse; in moral terms, it makes Mr. McElroy an apologist for what is recognized as one of the most heinous crimes of any kind. In the same breath as he trivializes the severity and frequency of modern-day slavery, Mr. McElroy is quick to defend Florida growers who have, for too long, prospered through willful ignorance of conditions in their own fields.  He unconscionably ignores what even a modicum of common sense would suggest, that the one case a year that gets prosecuted is merely the tip of the iceberg, given that the very nature of slavery does not leave its victims in a position to complain about their treatment.

Statement by Mary Robinson, President of Realizing Rights: The Ethical Globalization Initiative, former President of Ireland & UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

Statement by Larry Cox, Executive Director, Amnesty International USA

Letter from Lynn Delaney [PDF], Executive Director of Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice & Human Rights, 19 Dec 2008