A group of tomato pickers from Florida were put under the spotlight when they reached an historic agreement with Yum Brands, parent company of Taco Bell and the largest restaurant company in the world. A n International Labour Organization report explains how workers like these can sometimes become victims of forced labour exploitation.

Date issued: 25 May 2005 | Size/duration: 00:02:21 (3.85 MB)
If the video is not displayed, download the free RealPlayerâ„¢

It is 4:30 in the morning, but already the street is lined with commuters. These are the fruit and tomato pickers of Immokalee, Florida, migrant workers who work long grueling hours in the fields. Thanks to them, there is ketchup for your hamburger or juice on the breakfast table.

Miguel shares a small trailer with 13 other men to save money to send to his family in Guatemala. The men sleep 4 to a bed but feel lucky because they have basic electricity and plumbing.

But some of their fellow workers are not as lucky when it comes to working in the fields….

Lucas Benitez: Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW)

I remember when I went to work in the fields the crew leaders, the bosses, they had weapons outside of their tee shirts and you see the weapons and they say (snaps his fingers) and working really fast.

Lucas Benitez helped start the Coalition of Immokalee Workers or CIW when he saw many of his coworkers were being coerced or tricked out of their wages.

Those wages haven’t changed in 20 years but are still far more than what they could earn at home. Pickers must harvest 2 tons of tomatoes to make 50 dollars a day. At those rates, they can become trapped by debts owed to their bosses or to loan sharks back home.

With the help of the CIW, the US Department of Justice is prosecuting increasing numbers of cases under the Trafficking Victims Protection Act and has developed regional anti-trafficking teams in states like Florida.

Carlos Castillo: US Attorney’s office, Southern District, Florida

…among the reasons for the increase in the prioritizing of human trafficking is just the sheer numbers. The numbers of individuals, approximately 15,000 or so that are trafficked against their will into the country every year.

The International Labour Organization recently reported that complex subcontracting arrangements can hide situations of forced labour from major retail companies who don’t monitor their suppliers working conditions.

Working with the parent company of Taco Bell, the CIW negotiated an agreement to improve pay and working conditions for the Immokalee tomato pickers.

But Taco Bell has said it cannot go it alone and hopes other industry leaders will join them in trying to close the door on forced labour in America.