come and Claiming Servitude

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come and Claiming Servitude

Post  jukido on Fri Jul 15, 2011 4:11 pm

ome and Claiming Servitude

By JAMES C. McKINLEY Jr., The New York Times, 12 May 2011



The television advertisements the welder saw in Hanoi were alluring, almost too good to be true. A company partly owned by the government was offering jobs in the United States that paid $15 an hour, plus overtime, far more than the man, Chin Ba Ngo, could make in Vietnam. When he met with agents for the company, they asked for a $10,000 fee to put him in touch with an American company seeking laborers. He mortgaged his house and borrowed heavily from family members to come up with the money. The fee was the start of a two-year ordeal that has left Mr. Ngo broke and living in exile in Houston. He is one of 50 Vietnamese welders who contend in lawsuits that they were treated like indentured servants in the United States.



A state lawsuit resulted in a $60 million out-of-court settlement against two American companies, but now a federal suit has been filed charging the Vietnamese companies that recruited the welders with taking part in a human trafficking scheme. Through it all, the workers have contended — and the companies have denied — that they were brought here under false pretenses, treated poorly in near isolation and then cast out abruptly long before they expected to finish the work that would have helped them repay their debts. “They want to use our labor as a business, and they want to rip us off,” Mr. Ngo said.



In interviews, four of the men described how they were recruited through Vietnam’s state-sanctioned system for exporting labor and borrowed heavily to pay the required fees. It is a system that the State Department concluded in a 2010 report often leaves workers “highly vulnerable to debt bondage and forced labor.” The four companies involved in the deal have all denied wrongdoing. Officials of the Vietnamese labor-export corporations accused the men of lying this month and denied they had been deceived or exploited. Lawyers for the two American companies who agreed to the settlement also disputed the welders’ assertions that they were underpaid or were kept from leaving their lodgings.



But Tony Buzbee, a lawyer for the welders, said his clients were forced into a form of indentured servitude. Not only did they pay thousands of dollars in fees to Vietnamese companies, but they were charged high prices by their American employers for run-down housing, transportation to work and other expenses. The workers say the American company that arranged for their travel and housing — ILP Agency LLC — also took their passports and kept them isol
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