In February 2015, a federal court awarded five Indian workers $14 million in a labor trafficking lawsuit against Signal International, a maritime construction company, for abuses they faced while repairing offshore oil and gas facilities damaged by hurricane Katrina.
Five months later, Signal filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection to implement a $20 million settlement with more than 200 other workers who had their own lawsuits pending. It was, lawyers say, the largest monetary penalty ever in a labor trafficking lawsuit, making it a model for how to fight labor trafficking – both in the courtroom and out.
In Mexico and the US, advocates say abuses that can add up to trafficking in the agriculture industry often go unchecked because foreign workers are required to leave the United States at the end of each season. Back home, they are far away from the US legal system that might help them push for justice against abusive or exploitive employers.
To correct this, lawyers, NGOs, government representatives, and migrant advocates have worked together pursue cross-border justice. This includes finding plaintiffs in Mexico and other countries willing to testify in US courts; many don't know that they are entitled to legal recourse. The work is painstaking and time-consuming, but provides a path to reducing labor trafficking and migrant worker exploitation.
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