The campaign against a Louisiana seafood company accused of subjecting foreign guest workers to "forced labor" conditions continues to gain momentum. As of this writing, a change.org petition calling on Walmart to stop doing business with C.J.'s seafood, a Breaux Bridge-based seafood company that sells 85 percent of its inventory to the retail chain, has received more than 135,000 signatures as of this writing.
The following is taken from a statement, attributed to Ana Rosa Diaz, identified as a 40-year-old Mexican employee of CJ's in the United States under the H-2B temporary visa program:
Our boss forces us to work up to 24 hours at a time with no overtime pay. No matter how fast we work, they scream and curse at us to make us work faster. Our supervisor threatens to beat us with a shovel to stop us from taking breaks.
We live in trailers across from the boss's house, and we’re under surveillance all the time. The supervisors come into our trailers without warning, and they threaten to fire us if we leave after 9 p.m.
The supervisor also locked us in the plant so we couldn’t take breaks. One worker called 911. After that the boss rounded us up at 2:30 a.m., closed the door to keep the American employees out, and threatened our families.
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Yesterday, the Worker Rights Consortium (WRC) issued a report that it says verifies the allegations. The WRC report is based on interviews with CJ's staff and complaints issued to the Department of Labor but does not include interviews with CJ's management or Walmart representation, who, according to the report, did not respond to inquiries.
Here's a sampling of findings from the WRC investigation:
Workers interviewed by the WRC consistently reported extremely long and grueling work schedules, with minimal breaks for rest or nourishment.
The WRC reviewed the pay records of six guest workers employed by C.J.’s for the period from April 4 to May 30, 2012 and compared the amounts they were paid to the minimum amounts owed under federal law for the hours these employees reported working ... In every one of the 44 workweeks examined, the wages paid for the week were less than the minimum amount [ed. note: the "prevailing wage" of $8.53 plus time-and-a half past 40 hours, or $12.80 per hour] required by federal law. Moreover, in 41 cases, 93% of the total, the amount paid was below the amount workers would have been owed even if C.J.’s were paying only the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour, rather than the required prevailing wage of $8.53 per hour.
For its part, Walmart says it has conducted its own investigation and was unable to substantiate the allegations, according to this story in the Daily Beast.
Walmart says it has a tough set of ethical standards for its suppliers. In her email to The Daily Beast, Walmart’s spokeswoman wrote that “we remain committed to sourcing merchandise that is produced responsibly by suppliers that adhere to Walmart’s rigorous Standards for Suppliers code of conduct.”