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Mexico Authorities Free 275 Trapped In Forced Labor

  • Zlatica Hoke

Mexico abolished slavery in the early 19th century, but many poor Mexicans live and work in slave-like conditions either at home or abroad. Mexican authorities this week rescued 275 people who said they were forced to work at a tomato plant in the western State of Jalisco for inadequate pay and housing.

Bioparques de Occidente is a tomato sorting and packing company in the municipality of Toliman in the western state of Jalisco. The management finds workers to get the tomatoes ready for export in nearby rural areas.

Promise of work, wages, food

Regional prosecutor Salvador Gonzales said people are lured to the plant by offers of reasonable wages, accommodation and schools for their children. "They [workers] were offered jobs in Ciudad Guzman where they were offered 100 pesos [$7.85] per day, schools, accommodation. The offer was attractive. But when they [workers] arrived here they realized it was a different reality. They [Bioparques de Occidente] made them work more than eight hours and didn't pay them 100 pesos,'' he said.

Officials said the victims were mainly paid in vouchers redeemable at the company store, where items were sold at overinflated prices. The living conditions were crowded and dirty. But the workers were not permitted to leave.

Alejandro Acosta said they were treated cruelly. "We are badly treated here. It's not fair. They should pay us what they owe us in any case. Scoldings in the morning when one has a sick baby. They go to your room, kick the door open and tell you: 'Go to work, now!' If one does not go to work in the field you are not given any food, no food and apart from that you have to work here, sweep the floor, clean toilets, collect rubbish," Acosta explained. "It's not fair.''

But one man managed to escape and alert authorities in the state capital, Guadalajara.

Violators arrested

Five foremen were arrested on charges of "grave violations and crimes, including the illegal privation of liberty and human trafficking.

In 2007, Mauritania became the last country to ban slavery officially, but rights groups said that global slave trade in various forms continues, generating an estimated $32 billion a year.

A recent study, by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, estimated that 880,000 people are trapped in forced labor in nine European countries alone: France, Germany, Italy, Ireland, Latvia, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain and Sweden.