Long-term readers of this weblog might remember last fall when I wrote about what I saw as horrible abuses in a farm exchange worker program. One of the workers was Cassio, who worked for me. When I took Cassio to California to meet with other Brazilian students on the program, I found out how little they had been paid ($300 per month) to work, in many cases, more than sixty hours per week. They lived in squalorous conditions and some were also physically abused. The program, which bills itself as some sort of educational institution, is actually a cheap foreign labor brokerage. They not only do not care if their students are abused, they regard any complaints of abuse as the fault of the worker, who should just shut up and work harder--and maybe get a reward at the end for working on a "hard farm."

Well, I got a letter from that program today. Apparently, the State Department is looking into charges that some foreign workers are coming in on programs which are billed as educational but which are actually used by farmers as a way to procure cheap labor. The State Department has been "working with" the Agriculture Department and the Department of Labor to make sure that there are no such abuses.

That's great! I wonder where I can write them my story.

However, what was the response of this program? They underlined the relevant passages in the State Department document that some farmers don't even call their workers "trainees," they just call them "workers," or "employees." Gasp!

So, the purpose of the letter was to inform farmers who use this program (I never will touch it again--they are making money by channeling in slave labor as far as I am concerned) that they must call their workers "trainees." Even the farmer's children must call them trainees. Even the parrot! (Ha, ha.)

Oh, and farmers are never to hit, strike, or verbally abuse their trainees. And they are never to make them work more than sixty hours per week. Please don't do this stuff or the State Department will shut us down--and you won't get your cheap labor and we won't get our $500 per month to funnel the cheap labor into the country.

The only possible way this program can claim to be educational is if abusive boot camp conditions promote character--and I'll be darned if that the route the agency took in the letter (which wasn't signed by anybody): Maturity, character-development, etc., were listed prominently--technical skills and expertise in their field never came up.

This agency is crooked to the core, and so are the farmers who use it to get cheap labor. For some reason, I think this agency actually caters to abusive farmers and seeks them out. Only about 10-15% of the "trainees" I met, and Cassio agreed with this, were treated with any dignity.

So, I am glad that the State Department is onto this abuse, and I am trying to figure out who to write to encourage them to not let up.