The restaurant trade is notorious for cost cutting but when it involves degradation of life, I declare war. Human trafficking is the exploitation by force, fraud or coercion of vulnerable people - often immigrants - for forced labor, domestic servitude, or commercial sex operations. Human trafficking has become a multi-billion dollar global crime impacting nations - and neighborhoods - around the world. 

Florida is one of the highest destination states for women and children trafficked into the United States. In the past 5 years, law enforcement and social service providers have identified multiple cases of human trafficking in the Tampa Bay, Florida area.

In October 2006, the Clearwater Florida Police Department was awarded a Department of Justice grant to fund the creation of the Clearwater Area Task Force on Human Trafficking (CATFHT). The mission of the task force is to identify and rescue victims, create a coordinated law enforcement system to investigate and prosecute these crimes, and to deliver social, legal and immigration services to human trafficking victims in the Tampa Bay area. The three below were charged, one went to jail, probation, and fined and are now monitored.

Human trafficking from Central America to the US generates hundreds of millions in revenue, according to a new RAND report—but the widely ranging estimate, $200 million to $2.3 billion, speaks to the opacity of human-trafficking networks, the authors write.

Transnational criminal organizations are involved, RAND's researchers found, but they may not be the main culprits: Independent actors, ad-hoc groups, loose networks of smaller groups, and more-formalized networks are all involved in a landscape of human smugglers that’s difficult to counter.


LARGO | The FBI and local law enforcement officers raided three locations in Largo and Clearwater on Wednesday as part of an investigation into human trafficking.  In all, officials found 27 people living in two homes.

They are being treated as victims and are being interviewed to determine the circumstances of their status in the United States, investigators said.  Most are Hispanic and Asian, and all appear to be adults, said Dave Couvertier, a spokesman for the Tampa field office of the FBI.

Investigators are looking at the possibility the people were being forced to work at the Country Super Buffet restaurant on East Bay Drive, Couvertier said. Investigators executed search warrants at:

Country Super Buffet, 5010 E. Bay Drive, Largo,  A home at 2820 Oaklawn Ave., Largo, a home at 2401 Havana Drive, Clearwater.  Officers with the Clearwater/Tampa Bay Area Task Force on Human Trafficking said they received tips and gained intelligence that led to the search warrants.

At the Oaklawn address, 19 people were inside the beige duplex at the end of a dead-end street.  Next-door neighbor Michelle Kramer said she often saw two white vans pull up to the home in the morning.

“Tons of people” would pile into the vans and leave, not returning until late at night, she said.  “That’s seven days a week,” said 67-year-old Sylvia Leuci, a home health nurse who works at a home across the street.  Both women said the people were quiet and rarely talked with neighbors.  

At the Havana address, eight people were found inside the home.  Neighbors said the residents, who appeared Asian, had lived there since summer.  The house had frequent cars in and out at odd hours, and a woman who lived there was known to walk up and down the street while talking on the phone loud enough for neighbors to hear in their house.

Emily XXXXXX, 22, who lived across the street, said “they had a lot of people coming in and out.“  Vehicles, notably a van, would come to the house and honk, and people would come in or go out, neighbors said.  The Salvation Army and World Relief are working to assist the men and women with housing, food and clothing, Couvertier said.


🍤    Last year, the Guardian shed light on an uncomfortable — and unfortunate — truth about much of the shrimp sold in North America, Europe, Japan and elsewhere around the world. A six-month-long investigation revealed that torture, wage-theft, beatings and various other illegal practices were a reality in the production chain of the world's largest supplier.

🍤    If you buy prawns or shrimp from Thailand, you will be buying the produce of slave labor.  The investigation followed a 2013 report by the Environmental Justice Foundation, a nongovernmental organization, which chronicled the abuse in the Thai shrimp industry.   It also spurred a flurry of corporate responses: Walmart said it was "actively engaged" in the issue; Costco said it was telling its suppliers "to take corrective action;" and Tesco, the largest supermarket chain in Britain, called it "completely unacceptable."

🍤    But almost two years later, the problem persists.  A new report published on Monday by the Associated Press holds that such abuses are still rampant in the Thai shrimp industry. What's more, major markets around the world aren't doing a good job of keeping shrimp peeled by modern-day slaves out of their food system.  The AP investigation, which has led to the freeing of thousands of indentured fishermen, dozens of arrests and millions of dollars in seizures, found that the United States has been particularly poor in this regard. 

🍤    U.S. customs records show the shrimp made its way into the supply chains of major US food stores and retailers such as Wal-Mart, Kroger, Whole Foods, Dollar General and Petco, along with restaurants such as Red Lobster and Olive Garden.  It also entered the supply chains of some of America's best-known seafood brands and pet foods, including Chicken of the Sea and Fancy Feast, which are sold in grocery stores from Safeway and Schnucks to Piggly Wiggly and Albertsons. AP reporters went to supermarkets in all 50 states and found shrimp products from supply chains tainted with forced labor.

🍤    The conditions aren't helped by countries, such as the United States, which allow slave-peeled shrimp to enter the domestic supply chain.  A near-century-old exemption contained in the U.S. tariff code stipulates that companies can bring goods into the country that don't meet domestic labor laws,  if there is a supposed shortage of that goods.

The result is a loophole that allows food sourced from slave labor to slip through the cracks. A bill that would close the loophole was introduced earlier this year and has since passed the Senate and House of Representative, which are still working to resolve differences.

🍤    The AP published a list of grocers that it visited randomly and found such shrimp but the problem is likely far more extensive.  They found that just about every grocery store in the United States had supply chains that could be linked to modern-day slavery and it would seem “there is more oversight in seafood to protect dolphins than there is to protect humans.
Thailand is hardly the only offender — the US State Department has tied some 55 countries to such practices — but it is among the worst offenders. The Global Slavery Index estimates that the country is home to nearly half a million enslaved workers, and specifically cites the shrimp industry as a leading contributor. 




For the third time in three years, McDonald’s Corp. is facing allegations of rampant sexual harassment of female employees by male coworkers and managers.

Twenty-three new complaints against McDonald's — 20 of which were filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission — were announced Tuesday by the American Civil Liberties Union, the labor group Fight for $15, and the TIME'S UP Legal Defense Fund. Three of the complaints were filed as civil rights lawsuits, and two suits stemmed from previous allegations.

The complaints of gender-based discrimination and sexual harassment of low-wage workers include inappropriate touching, indecent exposure, lewd comments and requests for sex, as well as retaliation for reporting such conduct. The incidents are alleged to have occurred at corporate and franchise stores in 20 cities.

"It's a brutal reality across the fast food industry that at least one in four workers — especially women of color working low-wage jobs — experience sexual harassment as a routine part of their job," said Sharyn Tejani, director of the TIME'S UP Legal Defense Fund, in a statement. "Every day, workers are forced to choose between getting a paycheck or speaking up about their abuse. When they report harassment, workers are often fired or have their shifts cut — and since nothing is done to stop it, the scourge continues."

In one complaint, Jamelia Fairley, an employee in Sanford, Fla., alleges that she was sexually harassed over a period of several months, including hearing sexual comments about her 1-year-old daughter. Fairley alleges that after she reported the incidents her work hours were reduced. Her complaint is partially redacted in order to conceal the identities of her alleged assailants and the managers to whom she reported the incidents.

A spokeswoman for McDonald's declined to comment on the EEOC filings.   But the company's CEO Steve Easterbrook said in a May 19, 2019, letter that "McDonald's is committed to ensuring a harassment and bias-free workplace."

"By strengthening our overall policy, creating interactive training, a third-party managed anonymous hotline and importantly, listening to employees across the system, McDonald's is sending a clear message that we are committed to creating and sustaining a culture of trust where employees feel safe, valued and respected," Easterbrook wrote. He said that posters defining the company's anti-harassment policy have been sent "to all 14,000 restaurants in the McDonald's system."

Easterbrook's letter was addressed to author and actress Padma Lakshmi, who attended a rally in support of the complainants in front of McDonald's headquarters in Chicago on Tuesday.

Critics say the fast-food giant has made promises of reforms before. The EEOC filings are "the third and largest round of EEOC complaints that workers have filed against McDonald's in the last three years," according to The New York Times.

In September 2018, McDonald’s employees staged a one-day strike in 10 cities to protest sexual harassment in the workplace.   Sexual harassment in the restaurant industry is common, according to a 2016 survey that found that 40% of female fast food workers said they felt forced to accept that behavior or risk losing their jobs.

The vast majority of those who experience sexual harassment — an estimated 87% to 94% — never file a formal legal complaint, according to a study by the National Women's Law Center. Despite that, in 2016, nearly 7,000 sexual harassment complaints were filed with the EEOC.

Advocates say they hope the complaints brought against McDonald's, one of the most globally recognized brands, will "be a catalyst for significant change."