Contrary to popular belief, slavery in the U.S. has not ended.
The Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) has created the Modern Slavery Museum to travel around Florida to educate people about the horrific realities of modern-day slavery in the state.
Katrina vanden Heuvel of The Nation describes the many exhibits that create an interactive experience with the visitor in order to truly make an impact. For example, the majority of the museum is held inside a 24-foot box truck — similar to one used to hold twelve farmworkers captive for two years. Visitiors also see many documents or artifacts, including the bloody shirt of a 17 year old boy who was beaten for stopping to drink water.
CIW staff member Greg Asbed explains that, “when you can see the whole history and evolution of four hundred years of forced labor in Florida’s fields assembled in one place, then all the false assumptions about what drives modern-day slavery just fall away. It’s not workers’ immigration status today, or a few rogue bosses, but the fact that farmworkers have always been Florida’s poorest, most powerless workers. Poverty and powerlessness is the one constant that runs like a thread through all the history. In short, you see, it’s not about who’s on the job today. It’s about the job itself.”
CIW does not stop at awareness — the organization is actively working to end slavery. The Campaign for Fair Food was launched in 2001 to get several fast food chains to make sure its ingredients came from slavery-free farms. Currently the campaign targets major buyers and supermarkets to use their purchasing power to reward fair farms and punish “unfair” farms.
Asbed reveals, “There are no farms that you can say are good across the board yet, that could be certified as ‘fair food.’ The industry has a ways to go before it gets there. But you can encourage better behavior by moving your purchases to follow the best behavior, and you can eliminate the worst abuses by making sure growers will lose business, and maybe even lose the ability to do business, if abuses like slavery happen in their fields.”
CIW also targets the public to mobilize for change. The museum exhibit allows visitors to sign up for the CIW email list and send a postcard to Publix, a major supermarket chain in the southeast. There will also be a Farmworker Freedom March on April 16-18 from Tampa to Publix Corporate Headquarters in Lakeland, Florida.
Visit CIW’s site to learn more about its work and see photos and video of the Modern Slavery Museum by clicking here.