Modern-Slavery Museum rolls into Collier County to teach about farmworkers’ struggles

Beginning Sunday, a replica of the cargo truck used to enslave Immokalee tomato farmworkers in the latest case will be on a statewide tour.

For the first time, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers will kick off a six-week tour with the Florida Modern-Day Slavery Museum — a mobile educational vehicle with multimedia displays on the history of slavery in the state, including its roots, the reasons it continues today and its solutions.

For more than a month, the coalition has been developing exhibits after consulting with leading academic officials on slavery and labor history in Florida.

“The every day abusive condition in Florida agriculture creates the fertile soil in which slavery can take root,” said Jordan Buckley, a member of Interfaith Action of Southwest Florida.

The museum will be open and free to the public. It will visit Naples on Wednesday from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. at First Christian Church, 1789 Mandarin Road and 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. at North Naples United Methodist Church, 6000 Goodlette-Frank Road, and on Thursday from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. at First Christian Church.

The cargo truck that will be touring is similar to the truck that workers were enslaved by crews for two Immokalee growers in 2007, Buckley said.

Family members padlocked their workers in trucks and charged them $5 to bathe in the backyard with a garden hose, according to court documents.

Cesar and Geovanni Navarrete, who are brothers, each received a 12-year sentence in federal prison for enslaving undocumented farmworkers from Mexico and Guatemala. The Navarrete case was just the latest example of human slavery to happen in Southwest Florida — the seventh forced labor conviction in Florida agriculture in recent years.

“There is real slavery in the fields of Florida. This is not about lousy jobs, but violent control, vicious exploitation, and the potential for serious harm and even death,” Kevin Bales, the Pulitzer Prize nominated author and president of Free the Slaves, said in a prepared statement. “Even more heartbreaking is the fact that there has never been a day in the history of Florida agriculture without some amount of slavery tainting the food grown there. That food leaves the hands of slaves and ends up in the meals we eat with our families.”

He added that the coalition’s new traveling museum helps the public learn what needs to be known in order to end this crime.

Currently, Publix is buying from two companies involved in the 2008 slavery case, Buckley said, referring to slavery victims that were taken to work on farms owned by Six L’s and Pacific Tomato Growers.

Meanwhile, an ongoing demand from the coalition is for the Publix grocery store chain to adopt a code of conduct that would include a zero tolerance on slavery and for the grocery chain to engage in a conversation directly with the coalition.

The coalition has successfully reached agreements to improve wages and working conditions for workers who pick tomatoes: Whole Foods, Subway, McDonald’s, Burger King and Yum! Brands.

The following have endorsed the museum: Amnesty International USA, Anti-Slavery International, Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights, Realizing Rights: The Ethical Globalization Initiative, Free the Slaves, Freedom Network USA, Florida State University Center for the Advancement of Human Rights, Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center (FIAC), Human Trafficking Awareness Partnerships, and National Economic and Social Rights Initiative.

The museum tour will culminate as the cargo truck leads the coalition’s Farmworker Freedom March from April 16-18, when hundreds of farmworkers and their allies are expected to march from Tampa to Lakeland, headquarters of the Publix supermarket chain.

“This is a living museum that restores the right to life,” Bales said in a prepared statement.

To download an advance copy of the booklet that will accompany the Modern-Day Slavery Museum, visit

* * * * *

The Modern-Day Slavery Museum tour schedule:

■ In Cape Coral, from 7:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sunday at Grace United Methodist Church, 13 21st Place S.E.; from 2 to 5 p.m. at St. Katharine Drexel Parish, 1922 20th Ave. S.W.

■ In Fort Myers, from 6 to 8 p.m. Sunday at St. Columbkille Parish, 12171 Iona Road.

■ In Fort Myers, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday at Quality Life Center, 3210 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.; 6 to 8 p.m. at Broadway Palm Theatre, 1380 Colonial Blvd.

■ In Fort Myers, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday at Bishop Verot High School, 5598 Sunrise Drive.

■ In Naples, from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesday at First Christian Church, 1789 Mandarin Road; 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. at North Naples United Methodist Church, 6000 Goodlette-Frank Road.

■ In Naples, from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Thursday at First Christian Church, 1789 Mandarin Road.

■ In Venice, from 5 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, March 10, at Epiphany Cathedral, 350 Tampa Avenue West.

■ In Sarasota, from 5 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. on Friday, March 12, at Church of the Palms Presbyterian Church, 3224 Bee Ridge Road.

■ In Sarasota, from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on Saturday, March 13, at Congregation for Humanistic Judaism, 3023 Proctor Road; from 1 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. at St. Thomas More Parish, 2506 Gulf Gate Drive.



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