Published: Apr 1, 2010
Christine Merry ’11 had trouble believing the kinds of conditions some
farmworkers are subjected to until she spoke with members of the
The national network of students
and youth organize with farmworkers to eliminate sweatshop conditions
and modern-day slavery in the fields.
Merry said her eyes have
been opened to the atrocities, from denying workers fundamental rights
such as sick days and healthcare to the unimaginable abuse of chaining
them up at night in the back of a box truck which was recently
discovered in a 2008 federal court case.
“I was shocked that
modern day slavery even existed in the U.S., let alone right here in
Florida,” said Merry, a finance and management major. “My first reaction
was, ‘how can we help?’”
Merry, a PEACE volunteer coordinator at UT, has been helping organize a visit by the alliance’s Florida Modern-Day Slavery Museum
a mobile exhibit housed in the back of a box truck highlighting the
forced labor, poverty and abuse of some farmworkers in Florida, the root
causes of it, and some solutions.
The exhibit will make a stop
at UT on its six-week statewide tour on April 5 and 6 from 9 a.m. to 6
p.m. The mobile museum will be parked in front of the John H. Sykes College of Business
The Coalition of Immokalee Workers
the human rights farmworker organization based in South Florida,
conceived the idea for the museum. The goal is to educate students and
to let them know they can be part of the solution, said Meghan Cohorst,
the national co-coordinator of the Student/Farmworker Alliance
, which is based in Immokalee.
people are shocked when they hear about it, shocked that this is
happening in 2010,” said Cohorst, adding that farmworkers are paid
between 40-50 cents per 32-pound bucket of tomatoes, a rate that hasn’t
changed since 1978.
“They can join the campaign to improve wages
and working conditions for farmworkers by calling on buyers to commit
to a code of conduct, having a zero tolerance for modern-day slavery and
paying 1-cent per pound more for tomatoes,” she said.
Janice Law, director of UT's Academic Center for Excellence
history lecturer, said she thinks the most important thing about this
exhibit is that it will educate students on the horrors of daily life
for the modern day farmworker.
“Hopefully students will realize
the importance of the choices they make in selecting where they shop and
eat,” Law said, “and what they can do to contribute to the elimination
of these labor practices.”
Cohorst said farmworkers run the
gamut from being immigrants in the U.S. on work visas to being here for
political asylum. Some are undocumented and some are American citizens.
is something that happens to everyone,” Cohorst said. “It’s not an
immigration issue. It’s a human rights issue. Everyone has the right to
fair working conditions.”
For more information, contact Merry at the PEACE Volunteer Center
at (813) 253-6263 or Cohorst at firstname.lastname@example.org
or (239) 657-8311. Jamie Pilarczyk, Web Writer
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