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Indians slam slavery charges on US firms

About 220 workers, mostly from India, have filed a lawsuit claiming damages for being kept in virtual slavery in Louisiana after being promised jobs.

india Updated: Jan 16, 2004 13:45 IST
Indo-Asian News Service
Indo-Asian News Service

About 220 workers, mostly welders from India, have filed a lawsuit claiming damages for being kept in virtual slavery in Louisiana after being promised jobs and green cards for permanent residency in the US.

The suit was filed in New Orleans. B. Kent Felty, a Tulsa, Oklahoma, lawyer who is handling a similar federal case there, represents the workers, who are seeking damages of at least $75,000 each.

The Catholic Charities of New Orleans brought Felty to take over the case.

When the workers were stranded in Louisiana, it was the Catholic Charities that took care of them, assisting the men and getting them temporary jobs pending the approval of their applications to stay in the US.

The suit claims that the men were victims of human trafficking and were lured to Louisiana by empty promises of well-paid jobs and then "kept against their will at various locations and ... not allowed to leave". Many of them "were reduced to eating out of trash cans and became homeless and destitute".

Named as defendants, along with their companies, are B.J. Singh, believed to be a Canadian national and owner of NTS Skillforce Resources, Terry Forrester, an Idaho resident who runs Labour Consultants International.

Also named are Chad Chandler of Centreville, Mississippi, president of Falcon Steel Structures, a Mississippi company approved to do business in Louisiana, and an incorporator of Comerford Enterprises, another Mississippi firm that was dissolved two years ago.

A report in the Picayune Times, a leading daily of New Orleans, quoted Chandler's attorney George Fagan as saying that he had not broken any laws by bringing the workers to America. Nor did Chandler breach any terms of his arrangement with the workers, Fagan said.

The workers' suit alleges that the three defendants interviewed skilled workers of Indian descent in India, Dubai and Singapore starting in 2000 and continued doing so through at least January of last year -- promising them jobs in Louisiana that would pay about $14 an hour and last for three years. They also promised them green cards, giving them permanent legal status in the US.

To gain those benefits, each of the workers paid the defendants $10,000 to $20,000, which they borrowed at extremely high rates, the suit says. The defendants knew the debts would reduce the men to a "state of debt bondage and/or involuntary servitude" to the defendants according to the suit.

When they arrived in Louisiana, the suit said, "the workers were forced to stay in out-of-the-way hotels and holding areas, where they were refused food and medical attention and told they would work randomly or periodically as defendants saw fit, further creating a psychological state of total dependence and terror in the plaintiffs."

The case has been assigned to US District Judge Lance Africk in New Orleans.

First Published: Jan 16, 2004 00:00 IST