From Publishers Weekly
In this eye-opening look at the contemporary American scourge of labor abuse and outright slavery, journalist and author Bowe (Gig: Americans Talk About their Jobs) visits locations in Florida, Oklahoma and the U.S.-owned Pacific island of Saipan, where slavery cases have been brought to light as recently as 2006. There, he talks to affected workers, providing many moving and appalling first-hand accounts. In Immokalee, Florida, migrant Latino tomato and orange pickers are barely paid, kept in decrepit conditions and intimidated, violently, to keep quiet about it. A welding factory in Tulsa, Oklahoma imported workers from India who were forced to pay exorbitant "recruiting fees" and live in squalid barracks with tightly controlled access to the outside world. Considering the tiny island capital of Saipan, Bowe explores how its culture, isolation and American ties made it so favorable an environment for exploitative garment manufacturers and corrupt politicos; alongside the factories sprouted karaoke bars, strip joints and hotels where politicians were entertained by now-imprisoned lobbyist Jack Abramoff. The detailed chapter gives readers a lasting image of the island, touted a "miracle of economic development," as a vulnerable, truly suffering community, where poverty rates have climbed as high as 35 percent. Bowe's deeply researched, well-written treatise on the very real problem of modern American slavery deserves the attention of anyone living, working and consuming in America.
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The very human impulse to get ahead in life even at the expense of others' suffering encourages and tolerates the slave labor that provides more products at lower prices, argues Bowe. Traveling from Florida to Saipan, Bowe chronicles the connection between American consumerism and modern global slave labor. Instead of chains, modern slavery uses coercion in the form of threats of deportation, beatings, harm to families back home, or even death. Bowe focuses on three cases: a labor contractor named El Diablo, who held Mexican illegals in involuntary servitude, working in Florida orange groves, while ruling with terror and murder; a Tulsa, Oklahoma, man, owner of a steel-cutting plant, who contracted with an Indian-born American to recruit Indian laborers, who were overworked, underpaid, housed in squalor, and threatened with deportation if they resisted; and the U.S. commonwealth of Saipan, which recruits foreign workers, who are abused and exploited while working in sweatshops for U.S. clothing manufacturers. Bowe concludes with a scathing look at the desire for creature comforts and the American notion of freedom. Bush, Vanessa