Police in Gabon raid markets, rescue 140 children in operation to combat child trafficking

By: The Associated Press

 LYON, France – Interpol says police have raided markets in Gabon and rescued more than 140 children, some just six years old, who had been trafficked from 10 different countries to work as forced labour.

A statement said police also arrested 44 people in the Dec. 9 to 11 Interpol-led operation in the central African country’s capital, Libreville, for detaining the children.

The international police organization said on Monday that some of the children were forced to carry heavy goods while others sold products.

The statement did not specify where the children came from or how they got to Gabon.

France-based Interpol said the investigation continues and more such operations are planned. Operations to combat child trafficking have also taken place in Ivory Coast and Burkina Faso.

Old-Fashioned Gold Cake with Chocolate Frosting

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Meanwhile, mix up this magic:
Bowl #1
2 ⅓ cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 ¼ cup Fair Trade Certified sugar
Blend with fork or electric mixer.

Ready to whip up some frosting for your cake?
1/2 cup butter
4 teaspoons buttery spread (like Earth Balance)
1 teaspoon Fair Trade Certified vanilla
2 teaspoons cream
4 cups Fair Trade Certified confectioners sugar
1/3 cup Fair Trade Certified cocoa
Mix, frost, and enjoy
Bowl #2
½ cup (very softened) butter
1 ¼ cup milk
2 eggs
2 teaspoons Fair Trade Certified vanilla
Beat the heck out of this by hand or with an electric mixer.
Slowly add flour mix, continuing to beat the whole time.

Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes or more. Makes one layer of super moist, spongy, cake goodness

Child labour continues to be rampant in India: US report

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child-labour_200Washington: Large scale child labour persists in India, mostly in the agricultural sector and the informal economy despite initiatives by the government and instances of commercial sexual exploitation of minors are oft reported, a US report on the issue said on Wednesday.

According to the India section of the annual report of the Department of Labor, children are exploited in the worst forms of child labour with a majority working in agriculture, including in the production of rice and hybrid seeds.

Children who work in agriculture may carry heavy loads, and apply harmful pesticides, it said.

India has increased funding for and coordination of an extensive network of programmes to address the worst forms of child labour, but the menace persists particularly in agriculture and informal economy, said the report.

Only in India

“Forced child labour exists in domestic service, agriculture, and manufacturing. India lacks a minimum age for work and sets a low age for hazardous work, hindering efforts to address the problem,” the report said.

A large number of children also work in the informal economy, with child labour increasingly found in home-based production rather than organised factory settings.

Children are also found engaged in work on the streets which may include vending food and other goods, repairing vehicles and tyres, scavenging and rag picking, shoe shining, car washing, and begging, besides in construction and domestic service, it said.

“Most children working in domestic service are girls aged 12 to 17 but some are reportedly as young as age 5 or 6. Many work very long hours and suffer abusive treatment.

“Waste picking is prevalent among children in castes and tribes that have traditionally suffered from societal discrimination,” the report said.

The document said there are reports that “children have been recruited to serve as soldiers by armed opposition groups in zones where armed conflict is occurring, such as in Chhattisgarh”.

Service industries that employ children include hotels, food service, and tourism, and children also quarry sandstone and other material, break stones, and polish gems.

It also cites children being involved in manufacturing matches, bricks, carpets, locks, glass bangles, fireworks, bidis, footwear, garments, brassware, and other metal goods.

Noting that the commercial sexual exploitation of children remains a problem, the report said an estimated 1.2 million children engage in prostitution.

“Cases of child sex tourism continue to be reported. India is a source, transit and destination country for minors trafficked for commercial sexual exploitation and forced labour in domestic service, agriculture and activities such as begging, driving cycle rickshaws and hotel services,” it said.

2 Pinoys sentenced for forced labo

By Don Tagala, ABS-CBN North American News Bureau
Posted at 12/11/2010 10:48 AM | Updated as of 12/11/2010 10:48 AM

WEST PALM BEACH, Florida – Two Filipinos found guilty of victimizing 39 Filipino guest workers were sentenced to prison.

Sophia Manuel, 41, alleged mastermind of the human trafficking operation, was sentenced to 78 months in prison. Alfonso Baldonado, 45, received a 51-month prison sentence.

Manuel and Baldonando own Quality Staffing Corporation Services that obtained cheap labor by making false promises to entice Filipinos to come to the US as guest workers

Their 39 victims were Filipinos who paid up to $5,000 in recruitment and placement fees for jobs in the US. Many ended up jobless in Florida and buried in debt in the Philippines

Other victims were forced to provide cheap labor and services to some hotels and resorts in south Florida.

The victims said they were repeatedly threatened with arrest and deportation if they failed to perform their jobs.

One of the plaintiffs, said Manuel and Baldonado have victimized more people.

“They should receive the maximum prison sentence because there are other victims who have not yet stepped forward to complain against them,” he said.

Fil-Am lawyer Marissa De Guzman-Cobb, former Assistant Attorney General in the State of Florida, assisted the Filipino victims in prosecuting the defendants.

“It is my belief that justice was served. The judge was well within his discretion to exact the sentence that he did. I think he found the statements by the Filipino victims extremely compelling,” De Guzman-Cobb said. Balitang America

27 people found in human trafficking raids in Largo, Clearwater

LARGO — The two white vans would pull up to the nondescript beige duplex on the dead-end street early in the morning.

At the honk of a horn, a dozen or more Hispanic and Asian men and women would come out of the home and pile into the vans.

Neighbors wouldn’t see them again until late at night or early the next morning when the vans reappeared to drop them off.

“That’s seven days a week,” said 67-year-old Sylvia Leuci, a home health nurse who works at a home across the street.

Just a few miles away in Clearwater, a similar scene was unfolding each day at a one-story tan home with a single-car garage and an overgrown lawn.

On Wednesday, the FBI and local law enforcement officers raided both homes and a Chinese restaurant on East Bay Drive as part of an investigation into human trafficking.

In all, authorities found 27 people living in the two homes at 2820 Oaklawn Ave. in Largo and 2401 Havana Drive in Clearwater.

Investigators are looking at the possibility that the people were being forced to work at the Country Super Buffet at 5010 East Bay Drive, said special agent Dave Couvertier, a spokesman for the Tampa field office of the FBI.

No arrests were made, he said, but the investigation is ongoing.

Corporate filings with the state list the registered agent of the business as Jian Hui Wang, who also was renting the Largo home.

The people found at the homes are being treated as victims and were being interviewed Wednesday to determine the circumstances of their status in the United States, investigators said. Most are Hispanic and Asian, and all appear to be adults, Couvertier said.

The Salvation Army and World Relief are working to assist the people with housing, food and clothing, Couvertier said.

At the Largo address, 19 people were found.

“We noticed these big vans coming and going with all of these people,” said next-door neighbor Michelle Kramer. “They leave early in the morning and don’t get back until late at night, like midnight, sometimes 1 (a.m.).”

Kramer said “tons of people” lived at the home and they rarely communicated with neighbors. There are three bedrooms in each of the two units, she said.

Mike Modha, 45, of Lutz said the home belongs to his business partner, Akshay Patel. Modha, a Realtor, said Patel left him in charge of the property when he went to England to seek treatment for health problems more than 18 months ago.

Modha said he rented the duplex in January to Wang, whom he knew as Kenny. The rent is $1,300 and the lease says that six people can stay in each unit.

On the lease, Wang listed his employer as Royal Buffet at 9550 U.S. 19. in Port Richey. Modha said Wang told him he would use one duplex for himself and another for restaurant workers.

Except for one month, Wang always paid the rent on time Modha said.

“If they broke the law, they should be punished,” said Modha, himself an immigrant who came from Gujarat, India, 12 years ago.

In September, he and his wife became U.S. citizens.

At the Clearwater address, eight people were found.

Neighbors said the residents, who appeared to be Asian, had lived there since summer. Emily DeGarmo, 22, who lives across the street, said “they had a lot of people coming in and out.”

The home’s owner could not be reached for comment.

Early Wednesday afternoon, more than a dozen FBI agents, Pinellas County sheriff’s deputies and other authorities were going in and out of the house. They carried items in brown paper evidence bags and in black and yellow bins.

“This specific situation should serve as what I refer to as a wake-up call to the folks in our local community,” Couvertier said. “It can happen anywhere. It’s not limited to this area.”

Human trafficking is a worldwide problem that usually takes the form of forced labor, domestic servitude or forced prostitution, the most common of the three. In the United States, it’s estimated that anywhere from a couple of thousand to several thousand people a year are victims of human trafficking, Couvertier said.

According to a 2009 draft of a report by the Center for the Advancement of Human Rights at Florida State University, labor trafficking is the most prevalent type of human trafficking in Florida.

A finalized 2010 version of the report, commissioned by the state Legislature, notes that Florida was the third-leading state, with 296 calls to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center hotline in 2009.

Between May 2009 and June 2010, the state Department of Children and Families received reports of 156 trafficking incidents through its hotline. Of those, 22 cases were verified as trafficking, the report said.

Worldwide, 49,105 victims were identified in 2009, according to the 2010 Trafficking in Persons report published by the U.S. Department of State.

Officers with the Clearwater/Tampa Bay Area Task Force on Human Trafficking said their investigation began several months ago with a tip from a source they declined to identify. During the investigation, they were able to gain intelligence that led to Wednesday’s search warrants.

Couvertier and Clearwater police spokeswoman Beth Watts said it’s important for people to be aware of what’s happening around them and to report suspicious activity.

“It will help us, hopefully, to rescue women, children and men brought in (to the United States) under the ruse of promises of a better life,” Couvertier said.

Unfortunately, Couvertier said, “They don’t know what’s waiting for them on the other side.”

Times staff writer Mike Brassfield and Times researcher Shirl Kennedy contributed to this report.

Suspect anything?

Clearwater police said some signs of human trafficking include large numbers of people living in the same home, people who seem abnormally withdrawn or afraid and indications people are being held against their will, such as locks on windows. Authorities ask that anyone who thinks they have come into contact with a victim of human trafficking in Pinellas, Pasco or Hillsborough counties to call the Clearwater/Tampa Bay Area Task Force on Human Trafficking hotline at (727) 562-4917. In other areas, contact the Trafficking Information and Referral Hotline at 1-888-373-7888.

Human traffickers sentenced

I am happy to see this case has finally come to an end. I can tell you that six of the 39 survivors spoke and gave a powerful statement to the judge on how their lives were affected by the action of the traffickers. FCAHT staff is very proud of the survivors of this case as they have persevered and have been able to move on with their lives. All of them are happy and free!

The owners of a Boca Raton staffing company were sentenced to more than four years in federal prison on Friday after pleading guilty to charges they engaged in a human trafficking scheme.

Quality Staffing Services Corp. owner Sophia Manuel was given a 78-month sentence and co-owner Alfonso Baldonado Jr. was given 51 months.

They were indicted in April on charges they conspired to hold 39 Filipino nationals in service in country clubs and hotels in Southeast Florida.

Manuel also pleaded guilty to making false statements in an application she filed with the U.S. Department of Labor to obtain foreign labor certifications and visas under the federal H2B guest worker program.

Manuel and Baldonado previously pleaded guilty to conspiring to obtain a cheap, compliant and readily available labor pool by making false promises to entice the victims to incur debts to pay up front recruitment fees, a press release from the U.S. Justice Department said. Defendants then compelled the victims’ labor and services through threats to have the workers arrested and deported knowing the workers faced serious economic harm and possible incarceration for nonpayment of debts in the Philippines.

The workers’ passports were confiscated and they were forced to live in overcrowded, substandard conditions without adequate food or drinking water, according to court documents.

“These defendants exploited vulnerable individuals for their own financial gain, depriving the victims of their civil rights,” Thomas E. Perez, assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division, said in a press release. “The Department of Justice will continue to vigorously prosecute cases of forced labor where victims have been robbed of their freedom and dignity.”

U.S. Attorney Wifredo Ferrer stated, “Today’s sentencing reminds us that America remains a land of freedom and opportunity for immigrants, not of servitude and fear. Forced labor is illegal and we will enforce the laws that protect our immigrant communities from abuse.”

“Human traffickers target vulnerable victims, including minors, who desire a better life and end up being lured into a situation where they are deprived of their basic human rights,” said Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director John Morton. “These deplorable conditions will not be tolerated in this country and ICE will continue its commitment to rescue victims of this form of modern day slavery and arrest the traffickers that exploit them.”

Read more: Human traffickers sentenced | South Florida Business Journal

Fair Trade Holiday Gifts

Nine Beauty Products

Beauty products made with Fair Trade Certified ingredients are new to the scene this year, and they are sure to impress! Pamper your loved one with one of these lovely products: Generations Spa’s Catalyst Sugar Body Scrub, Badger Balm’s Cocoa Butter Lip Balm, mark.’s Body Care that Cares Collection, Aura Cacia Ginger/Mint Body Polish, Kumani’s Daily Shampoo and Moisturizing Conditioner with Moroccan Argan Oil or Planet Botanicals’ Ethiopian Coffee Scrub. And for that special man in your life, check out Blends for Life Organics’ Shea for Men.

FBI conducting human trafficking investigation in Largo, Clearwater

By Josh Gauntt, Reporter
Last Updated: Wednesday, December 8, 2010 PINELLAS COUNTY —
The FBI is conducting an investigation potentially involving human trafficking at two homes and a restaurant in Pinellas County.

Investigators served search warrants at:

A home at 2820 Oaklawn Avenue in Largo
Country Super Buffet at 5010 East Bay Drive in Largo
A home at 2401 Havana Drive in Clearwater
Nineteen people found inside the Oakland location and eight people at the Havana address are being interviewed to determine the circumstances of their status in the U.S.

The FBI is working with the Clearwater Police Department and several other agencies.

No arrests are expected today.

Target Sells Gold Tarnished By Child and Forced Labor

by Tim Newman December 07, 2010

This holiday shopping season, jewelry companies are releasing their most heart-warming commercials encouraging consumers to surprise their loved ones with bands and chains of gold. However, the global gold industry is tarnished by severe labor rights abuses in many places, including forced labor and child labor. And Target is leading the industry in sales of dirty gold.

The U.S. Department of Labor’s List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor identifies 17 countries from Africa to Asia to Latin America whose gold exports may be tainted by serious labor abuses in gold mines. In the Philippines, children as young as ten work long hours for almost no pay at small-scale gold mines. Conditions are often extremely dangerous, and children carry heavy loads, labor in unsafe underground mines or sift through gold with their bare hands, exposing themselves to mercury poisoning. Labor advocates are concerned that a “rising number of formal employers employ children to cut costs during the financial crisis.”

Similarly, media reports in Vietnam recently exposed how recruiters lure workers to gold mines and keep them in forced labor conditions. For example, a 15-year old boy named Dinh Van Diet was discovered in a forest after he ran away from a mine where he worked for two months. After enduring backbreaking conditions, Diet had requested to either be transferred to a different job or paid his wages and released from the mine, but instead he was beaten by his boss. Diet managed to run away, but was lost in the woods for over a month with severe injuries before he was found.

A recent audio slideshow from the Guardian in the U.K. explores the difficult conditions facing women workers in the gold mines of the Democratic Republic of the Congo who labor as “human mules.” The effect of carrying these heavy loads has a number of health consequences on these workers, including miscarriages. Human Rights Watch, Free the Slaves and other organizations have documented how children, prisoners and adult workers are often forced by militias to mine gold in the DRC as part of the ongoing conflict, fueled in part by the sale of minerals. And a report from Anti-Slavery International, exposed how thousands of children labor in gold mines in Peru. Starting as young as five years old, children often must help their parents gather and clean rocks. As they get older, children are involved in a range of hazardous activities including carrying heavy loads, digging in pits and dealing directly with mercury.

Clearly, this luxury gift comes at a significant price for workers around the world who mine gold. The No Dirty Gold campaign has worked to push corporations profiting from the sale of gold to take responsibility for the labor rights, as well as other human rights and environmental abuses, that persist in this industry. The campaign has managed to get almost 80 of the world’s largest jewelry retailers to embrace a set of Golden Rules that include respecting worker rights and international labor rights and fully disclosing information about the social impact of gold mining. But Target, one of the nation’s largest retailers and a huge retailer of gold products, has lagged behind in embracing responsible standards for gold suppliers.

No company should be allowed to profit of the exploitation of children, workers and communities around the world. Take action now to tell Target to join the rest of the industry in implementing the Golden Rules.

Fair Trade Gift Guide

Ten Chocolate Bars
Hey Santa, nothing stuffs a stocking better than delicious Fair Trade Certified chocolate! Our seasonal recommendations are Divine Chocolate’s Advent Calendar, Equal Exchange’s Sweet and Spicy Chocolate Sampler, Sjaack’s Snowman Tote, Snow Angell Candy Bar, Green & Black’s Maya Gold, Coco-Zen Truffles to Give: 3-Tier Tiffin, TCHO “fruity” or “nutty” dark chocolate bars, Alter Eco Dark Quinoa Chocolate, Kopali Organics Chocolate Covered Gojiberries and Sweet Earth Organics 15-Piece Holiday Truffles. And now you can make your game of dreidel more fair with Divine Chocolate’s Milk Chocolate Coins.