Most Americans would be shocked to discover that slavery still exists in the United States. Yet most of us buy goods made by people who aren’t paid for their labor–people who are trapped financially, and often physically. In Nobodies , award-winning journalist John Bowe exposes the outsourcing, corporate chicanery, immigration fraud, and sleights of hand that allow forced labor to continue in the United States while the rest of us notice nothing but the everyday low price at the checkout counter.
Based on thorough and often dangerous research, exclusive interviews, and eyewitness accounts, Nobodies takes you inside three illegal workplaces where employees are virtually or literally enslaved.
In the fields of Immokalee, Florida, underpaid (and often unpaid) illegal immigrants pick the produce all of us consume, connected by a chain of subcontractors and divisions to such companies as PepsiCo and Tropicana. At the top of the chain are stockholders and politicians; at the bottom is a father of six, one of whose children suffers from leukemia, who entered America only to become the unpaid employee of a labor contractor nicknamed “El Diablo” for his cruelty.
In Tulsa, Oklahoma, the John Pickle Company reaped profits for years making pressure tanks used by oil refineries and power plants. Feeling squeezed by foreign competition and government regulations, JPC partnered with an Indian and Kuwaiti firm to import workers from India. Under the guise of a “training program,” fifty-three workers, including college-educated Uday Ludbe, came to the United States, only to have their documents confiscated and to find themselves confined to a factory building. Pickle laid off Americans and paid the Indians three dollars an hour.
Saipan, a U.S. commonwealth in the Western Pacific where the author lived for three years, has long been exempted from American immigration controls, tariffs, and federal income tax–a status quo assiduously protected by lobbyist Jack Abramoff and Congressman Tom DeLay. There, garment magnates–selling to clothing giants like the Gap and Target–live in luxury while thousands of foreign factory workers, 90 percent of them female, work sixty-hour weeks for $3.05 an hour and spend weekends trying to trade sex for green cards. The garments they make are allowed to be labeled MADE IN AMERICA.
Nobodies is a vivid and powerful work of investigative reporting, but it is also a lively examination of the eternal struggle for power between free people and unfree people. Against the American landscape of shopping mall, outlet stores, and Happy Meals, Bowe reveals how humankind’s darker urges remain alive and well, lingering in the background of every transaction and how understanding them may lead to overcoming them.
From the Hardcover edition.
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|Title of Business & Economics eBook: Nobodies|
|Release Date: 09-18-2007|
|Allowed Countries (hover)|
|Publisher: Random House Publishing Group||Store Sales Rank: 9424|
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On April 20, 1997, at around 10 p.m., the Highlands County, Florida, Sheriff's Office received a 911 call; something strange had happened out in the migrant-worker ghetto near Highlands Boulevard. The "neighborhood," a mishmash of rotting trailer homes and plywood shacks, was hidden outside the town of Lake Placid, a mile or two back from the main road. By day, the place was forbidding and cheerless, silent, its forlorn dwellings perched awry, in seeming danger of oozing into the swamp. By night, it was downright menacing, humid and thick with mosquitoes.
When the sheriff's officers arrived, they found an empty van parked beside a lonely, narrow lane. The doors were closed, the lights were still on, and a few feet away, in the steamy hiss of night, a man lay facedown in a pool of blood. He had been shot once in the back of the head, execution-style. Beyond his body stood a pay phone, mounted on a pole.
The 911 caller had offered a description of a truck the sheriff's officers recognized as belonging to a local labor contractor named Ramiro Ramos. At 1:30 a.m., officers were dispatched to Ramos's house.
It's unclear how much the officers knew about the relationship between Ramos and his employees. Migrant farmworkers-nearly all undocumented Mexican and Central Americans, in this case-usually arrive in this country with little comprehension of English or of American culture. Since they frequently come with little money and few connections, the contractor, or crew boss, as he's often called, often provides food, housing, and transportation to and from work. As a result, many farmworkers labor under the near-total control