July 3, 2013. New York. When federal agents raided multiple 7-Eleven convenience stores two weeks ago, they exposed one of America’s dirty secrets – slavery is alive and well in modern America. You won’t hear that word however because the financial markets don’t like controversy. And the same individuals who own the media companies also own the corporations profiting from the institution of slavery.
"The 7-Eleven House" as titled by the NY Times, sits across the street from this Long Island 7-Eleven. Image courtesy of the NY Times.
It’s no conspiracy theory, and hasn’t been for some time. There are pockets of slave labor factories sprinkled across the US. Past raids have turned up a number of businesses, corporations and industries utilizing America’s modern day forced laborers. They include garment factories in major US cities, food processors in small towns, and corporate farms throughout the nation’s farm belt. Now, convenience stores can be added to that list.
When federal agents raided 14 different 7-Eleven stores in New York and Virginia two weeks ago, government authorities called the corporation’s secret practice a, “modern day plantation system.” As detailed by Yahoo News, ‘Farrukh Baig, his wife Bushra, and seven others were charged with fraud, identity theft and concealing illegal immigrants to work in their stores.’ Executives from 7-Eleven had no comment for the public other than to say they were cooperating with authorities. But the corporation sent a warning to each of its 5,600 franchises.
“This letter is to remind you of the required I-9 compliance steps and to outline some of the consequences for failure to comply. These requirements are mandatory for all franchisees," the statement read, "Failure to comply will result in serious consequences, including the possible termination of your franchise agreement."
7-Eleven operates 50,000 stores in 16 countries, with more than 10,000 in the US. Roughly half of those are franchises. Attempting to reign in those 5,600 stores, the company’s statement to them went on to explain, "We have a critical need to protect the integrity and reputation of the 7-Eleven Brand, a right to insist upon your compliance with the Franchise Agreement, and to ensure that all franchised stores are being operated in a lawful manner."
Labor and living conditions
As detailed by various news accounts, the “plantation system” 7-Eleven utilized included the exploiting of illegal immigrants from countries such as Pakistan and the Philippines. Immediately after the raids, agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Department of Homeland Security confirmed that this particular operation had been running since 2000 and was thought to have victimized as many as 50 individuals.
While authorities were taking the nine assailants into custody, they confirmed their agencies were executing search warrants at 30 other 7-Elevens across a handful of states including Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Authorities also gave a description of the living and working conditions the victims were forced to endure.
Agents claim the stores gave the victims fake identities utilizing deceased individuals and their social security numbers, then forced them to work 100 hours per week for little or no pay. Instead, the 7-Elevens made the workers live in store-owned slums, exchanging any pay for just enough food and shelter to keep them alive and working.
None of the accounts describe what methods were used to keep the workers from escaping. But it appears to be as simple as the threat to turn the illegal workers over to US authorities. In past instances involving other corporations, workers were beaten and in some cases chained to walls to prevent their escape. In the case of the 7-Eleven raids, officials confirmed that the investigation was launched due to tips the agencies received from store employees.
Practice rampant across US
Announcing the arrests, US Attorney Loretta Lynch said, “These defendants ruthlessly exploited their immigrant employees, stealing their wages and requiring them to live in unregulated boarding houses, in effect creating a modern-day plantation system.”
Showing that this is anything but an isolated event, ICE officials confirmed that just in the past two years, federal authorities have brought similar charges against more than 500 business owners and managers across the US.
As reported by the Filipino news outlet Global Nation, the 7-Eleven franchise owners arrested face wire fraud, conspiracy, identity theft and alien-harboring charges. They face up to 20 years in prison if convicted of conspiracy. As for the victims, ICE officials announced that they will most likely all be deported back to their countries of origin, mainly the Philippines and Pakistan.
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