Labor Traffickig possibly connected to Oil rig explosion

Six Filipino workers injured or killed in an explosion on an oil platform off the coast of Louisiana last week were working for a Louisiana company accused in a federal lawsuit of human trafficking and extensive labor violations in its treatment of foreign workers.

The workers, including one who died in the blast and another who is missing, were among 14 employees and subcontractors working for Grand Isle Shipyard on a rig owned by Houston-based Black Elk Energy, which has an office in Broussard in Lafayette Parish.

Grand Isle and several recruiters here and in the Phillipines are accused in the class-action lawsuit of running a “labor camp” for foreign workers — paying substandard wages for long hours, collecting fees as high as $3,200 a month per worker for a small room shared with four to six other men, and keeping workers “imprisoned” behind lock and key except for one-hour supervised treks to Walmart once a week on Sundays.

The suit accuses Grand Isle and the other companies of violating the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act, the Civil Rights Act, and the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871, among others.

The company and others accused in the lawsuit have denied the allegations, saying they are “patently false and baseless.” An attorney representing the company did not respond Tuesday to a request for comment.

Black Elk Energy is not named in the lawsuit and declined to comment about the lawsuit or its connection to Grand Isle or the other companies. A statement on the company website posted Monday said it is continuing with diving operations in its search for the missing worker.

“We remain focused on the victims and their families, including those injured in the accident,” according to the statement.

One worker, identified by the Philippine embassy as Elroy Corporal, 42, was killed in the fire. Another man, identified as Jerome Malgapo, remained missing late Tuesday.

Four workers were injured in the fire, and the condition of one worker was upgraded to good on Monday. Another worker was listed in serious condition and two others remained critical at Baton Rouge General Medical Center.

False promises?

The lawsuit accuses Grand Isle and several other companies of luring skilled workers from the Philippines with false promises of good jobs, fair wages, and free room and board.

Instead, workers — mostly certified welders and fitters — arrived to virtual incarceration in harsh conditions and were threatened with deportation if they complained, according to the lawsuit.

About 40 people have stepped forward to say they were mistreated by the company, and all tell similar tales of abuse,  according to Lori Mince, an attorney with Fishman Haygood Phelps Walmsley Willis & Swanson law firm in New Orleans, which is representing the workers.

“We have received a consistent story as to these essential allegations,” Mince told The Daily Advertiser on Tuesday. “Labor trafficking is not as uncommon as you might think.”

The lawsuit accuses Grand Isle of using two recruiting agencies based in the U.S., D&R (renamed DNR) and V People, and two based in the Philippines, IPAMS and POMI, to recruit workers through special visas.

The workers were given skills tests and then questioned at the U.S. Embassy before being offered jobs, according to the lawsuit.  The job offers made in English and presented to the U.S. Embassy, however, were at a higher wage than the wages actually paid and included offers of onshore allowances, monthly leave bonuses, and free housing and accommodations that were never fulfilled, according to the lawsuit.

Instead, workers were housed in “overcrowded, substandard living spaces,” including a bunkhouse in Galliano, La., that crammed four workers on bunk beds into rooms that measured about 10 feet by 10 feet. The Filipino workers were kicked out of those rooms if an American needed a place to sleep, the lawsuit says.

Workers were locked into the bunkhouse after a strict 10 p.m. curfew, and security cameras were set up outside to prevent escape, the suit charges. Other workers were housed on a barge in Lafitte, La., where six workers were assigned to a room that contained “sleeping mats” instead of beds, the lawsuit says.

The companies deducted as much as $3,200 a month for living expenses from the workers’ checks, and also charged fees for use of tools and equipment.  Moreover, workers were charged the housing fee even when they were sent offshore and another company was picking up those expenses, the lawsuit says.

The lawsuit is seeking to include all workers recruited by the companies since Nov. 8, 2008 -— the three-year cutoff point for the statute of limitations on the Fair Labor Standards Act.

The lawsuit is seeking unspecified damages for assorted violations, including infliction of mental distress.

“As a result of defendants’ extreme and outrageous conduct, plaintiffs suffered severe emotional distress,” the lawsuit says. “While under the employ of defendants, plaintiffs were in a constant state of trepidation and fear that defendants would suddenly deport them back to their home countries.”

Court documents list Grand Isle as being owned by NANA Development Corp. Also named as defendants in the lawsuit are D&R/DNR, based in Galliano, La., and three Filipinos identified as half-owners of the business, Danilo N. Dayao, Randolf Malgapo and Nilfil Peralta; Thunder Enterprises, a privately held company that the lawsuit says holds a 50 percent share of D&R; Industrial Personnel and Management Services and Pacific Ocean Manning Inc, both recruiting firms in the Philippines; V Manpower Philippines, a Texas-based company that obtains visas for foreign workers; and Mark Pregeant, identified in the suit as international operations manager for Grand Isle and director of Thunder Enterprises.

Probe ongoing

Federal investigators, meanwhile, are moving in to look into the explosion on the West Delta 32 Platform.

The U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board, a government agency that investigates industrial chemical accidents, has sent a subpoena to Black Elk seeking information about the explosion.  The board has not yet decided whether to investigate, a spokesperson said.

And the federal Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement has personnel on the platform this week to investigate what happened.

The explosion and fire occurred Friday on the deck of the platform, which sits in 56 feet of water off the coast of Plaquemines Parish. The fire was put out within hours, and the platform remained sound.

It was not producing oil at the time, and the accident did not result in continuous leakage of oil as occurred with the devastating Deepwater Horizon disaster in April 2010.

This article contains material from The Associated Press.

Advertisements

Child Trafficking Victims Freed in Burkina Faso

By ANGELA CHARLTON Associated Press

PARIS November 22, 2012 (AP)

 

 

Police found the children, some as young as 6, working deep in gold mines and cotton fields around Burkina Faso. They were unpaid and unschooled. Some were being sexually abused.

An international police operation has freed nearly 400 children from forced labor in the West African country and arrested 73 people suspected of child trafficking or forced labor, Interpol announced Thursday.

It was a rare victory against forced child labor in West Africa, which has some of the world’s highest poverty rates. Young boys are often sent to work as hired hands in other people’s fields or are employed in the numerous mines that dot the countryside. Young girls are frequently sent to work as maids in the homes of the urban elite.

The Interpol-organized operation in Burkina Faso, carried out Oct. 29-30, targeted children sold and forced into labor by traffickers.

Children were found working in extreme conditions, including down “narrow, airless mining holes,” and receiving no pay or schooling, France-based Interpol said in a statement Thursday. Young girls were “often subjected to sexual abuse,” it said.

The 387 children rescued were returned to their families or taken in by social services. The operation targeted sites around the capital, Ouagadougou, and Hounde and Bobo Dioulasso.

“Interpol will continue to work closely with all its member countries to identify and stop the exploitation of these innocent victims and help them regain the childhood they deserve,” Henri Guida Blemin, of the police agency’s human trafficking unit, was quoted as saying in the statement.

Interpol specialists trained local officials before the operation, in the hope they can dismantle child trafficking networks and prevent child labor in the future. The agency has carried out similar operations in other African countries since 2009.

Many thousands of children work long hours at often dangerous jobs in hundreds of primitive gold mines scattered through the West African bush. They slip down dozens of meters (yards) into mine shafts as narrow as manholes, or pound chunks of dirt and rub mercury in their hands to attract gold out of it. Child-mined gold is then bought by itinerant traders and trucked and shipped out to the world market.

The U.N. labor organization describes mining jobs as “one of the worst forms of child labor” and has worked for laws and agreements fighting it. More than 200 million children are estimated to be working worldwide, according to a 2010 International Labor Organization report.

———

Rukmini Callimachi in Dakar, Senegal, contributed to this report.

More Than Just The Victims

I started to find human trafficking interesting after I watched a Lisa Ling special about brothels in India and other parts of Asia. I saw little girls, 7, 8 years old, sitting in closet sized rooms, mostly naked, waiting to be sold to the highest bidder. So I started to watch more and more of these shows. National Geographic, OWN, CNN, all of these networks brought me deeper and deeper into the world of human trafficking. My favorite episodes were always the ones where the crew ended up buying the girls so that they could get them to safety. I hated the ones where they were forced to leave them behind. What I started to notice was that every time someone would go up to the brothel to inquire about the girls, it was almost never a man who came to the door. In most cases, a woman was the one running the brothel. At first I was confused (I was 11 at the time I started becoming interested in trafficking), I thought that perhaps this woman was a sex slave as well, surely she wouldn’t work there out of her own free will. As I watched, and read, and researched more and more, I learned a shocking fact that a disturbing number of women were actually the traffickers themselves. As a child I simply couldn’t wrap my head around this notion but as I grew up, I learned that there actually were reasons as to why women would take part in this deplorable trade of people for money.
The first reason is that, often times, the women running the brothels were once slaves owned by the brothel themselves. Many of the female brothel owners started out as victims and through some circumstance were able to be freed from that position and have now turned to running the brothel as a way to make money. For many of them, this is the only life they’ve known. Countries like Thailand and India are notorious for family members selling their young children into sex slavery as means of income. Sometimes the family is given a portion of what the child “earns” and sometimes the child is traded just to fulfill a debt. It might seem hard to believe that someone, who for years was raped repeatedly by one stranger after another, was beaten, probably starved and maliciously abused, would choose to enter into a life where they would be administering that same hell onto other young kids. However, this is difficult for those of us who have never been in a situation even close to that, to understand; I think it’s probably something similar to Stockholm Syndrome. When you grow and that’s all you’re exposed to, day after day, it becomes the norm. Studies show that abuse victims may be more likely to become the abusers themselves. It upsets me greatly to know that these victims have been so brain washed into believing there is no other way to survive, that all new generations are having to suffer.
However, even if the perpetrator is aware that in fact, there are other means of living besides owning a brothel, they might not feel like they have any other choice financially. Sex sells. Brothel owners are likely going to make more one day than a week or more working in a factory or something similar. For many of these women, they’ve already been hardened to this life years ago. If it come between starving or selling someone else for sex, they will almost always chose themselves. Especially in countries were the poor are so dirt poor that are forced to live in the absolute most unsanitary, crowded, unhealthy conditions, wouldn’t most people do anything they could to get out of there? Sex trafficking, underage kids in brothels, for many countries this is a common reality that is part of the everyday lives of so many people. Even if they know it’s wrong, the survival instinct is too engaged for them to pass up the opportunity.
While trafficking anyone for any reason, but especially a child for sex, is completely unforgivable, I can understand why some women take part as traffickers, even if I don’t agree with the reasons. However, someone recently pointed out an article to me that was about a woman from Kentucky selling her 13-year-old female relative for sex. She gave this little girl to men, to use her as they like. Not only is this little girl going to be scarred for life by this, but how is she ever going to able to trust anyone, especially family, again? It completely sickens me to my stomach. How are we to hope to eradicate human trafficking completely from the world, when people aren’t even always safe with their own family members?

By: Danae Zimmer

The Right To Not Be Raped

I read an article last week in an online newspaper from a couple of years ago. It was about a little girl, 11 years old, that was gang raped by 17 boys raging in age from 14-27. Now if that wasn’t already one of the most horrific and disturbing things I have ever read, I find out that some people were actually blaming this child for the rape because she “dressed like a 20 year old.” I wasn’t aware that dressing like a 20 year old (whatever that means) gave anyone license to rape. As appalling as the attack is, it does bring to light the way in which some people think about women and girls; that dressing or acting a certain way is an invitation for an assault. It’s not. It’s the same mentality, the “I can do whatever I want, regardless of the cost to someone else” way of thinking that exists in the world of human trafficking as well. I think that sometimes people don’t always recognize certain individuals as trafficking victims because they put themselves in the situation (on purpose or inadvertently) that led to it. Even though this post isn’t specifically about human trafficking, I think it’s still important to be aware of sexual violence in all situations. As long as anyone continues to think they have the right to rape somebody else, sex trafficking will always exist.
As the youngest daughter of four girls, I’ve grown up constantly being told to “be careful”, “cover up” because “you don’t want to give people the wrong idea about you” and a hundred other warnings to dress as modestly as the typical American teenage girl is going to dress. I always complained about how unfair it was that boys got to run around with their shirts off in the blistering summer heat, but if I was to hang around outside just in my bathing suit then I would be, one, scolded for dressing inappropriately, and two, would be sexualized by the passing men who happened to see me. It irritated me to no end that it was okay for boys to be sexualized by the girls who saw them, but as soon as I, a female, was in that same situation, it became a safety issue. Apparently, expressing sexuality, intentional or not, can sometime be interpreted as inviting sexual advances. I, nor any woman I’ve ever talked to before, as never expressed interest in being hit on by the weird, drunk guys at the bar no matter what we’re wearing. Unfortunately, what happens is that when the advances of said creepy, drunk guy are rejected, they claim that they were “led on” and the woman can end up being sexually assaulted. Of course not all weird, drunk guys are rapists and not all rapists are drunk, weird guys (and lets not forget that men and rape men, women can rape men, and women can rape other women as well), but the fact that rape occurs with the frequency it does is extremely alarming. In the year 2012, women, or anyone for that matter, should not have to worry about the clothes they’re wearing putting them in a dangerous position. No one should ever have to worry about being taken advantage of in any situation they find themselves in.
A good portion of sex trafficking victims started out as runaways. For whatever reason, they decided to go risk life on the street rather than live in their home, if they had one to begin with. Often times these (for this article’s sake we’ll contain the conversation to teenagers and younger) kids are forced day after day to live with unthinkable violence and sexual abuse from the people that are supposed to care for them; it’s no wonder they choose life on the street instead. While living on the streets they might meet someone who promises to take care of them. They offer love, support and protection. All these runaways have to do is sleep with a few men to make some money to help their “boyfriend” out. It’s all down hill from there. Too often the girl turns into a permanent form of incoming; servicing anyone, anytime that their “boyfriend” tells them to. These kids, yes often times kids,
are now trafficking victims, unless they want to engage in sex acts with their customers. Even if they don’t try to run away, even if they don’t fight it, they are victims (especially since many of these victims aren’t old enough to legally give consent anyways). 

Just as no one should have to worry about certain clothing enticing an attack, no one should have to worry about being taken advantage because of the situation they’ve found themselves in. This goes beyond just women’s rights, this is a matter of human rights in general.Everyone should have the right to dress how they want, live how they want, even struggle through hard times without having to worry about predators lurking around every corner, waiting to take advantage of anyone in even a slightly vulnerable position.