An Open Letter to Gov. Charlie Crist

When those who have the responsibility to ensure freedom from slavery, one of the grossest violations of human rights, instead tolerate its existence, people of conscience must speak out.

Mr. Terence McElroy, a spokesperson from the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, responded on behalf of Governor Charlie Crist to an inquiry from the Ft. Myers News Press on the pervasiveness of modern-day slavery in the Florida agricultural industry. Mr. McElroy stated, “Of course, I say any instance is too many, and any legitimate grower certainly does not engage in that activity (slavery) but you’re talking about maybe a case a year.

Mr. McElroy’s gross disregard for even the most severe abuses committed against farmworkers speaks volumes about why modern-day slavery continues to flourish, and why Florida has been called “ground-zero” for modern-day slavery by Florida’s U.S. Attorney:  the Florida office responsible for overseeing the agricultural industry believes that a little slavery is OK.

Tolerating a little modern-day slavery is like tolerating a little murder or accepting a little child abuse; in moral terms, it makes Mr. McElroy an apologist for what is recognized as one of the most heinous crimes of any kind. 

In the same breath as he trivializes the severity and frequency of modern-day slavery, Mr. McElroy is quick to defend Florida growers who have, for too long, prospered through willful ignorance of conditions in their own fieldsHe unconscionably ignores what even a modicum of common sense would suggest, that the one case a year that gets prosecuted is merely the tip of the iceberg, given that the very nature of slavery does not leave its victims in a position to complain about their treatment.

Shall we allow Florida’s government to evade its moral and civic responsibility to address the scourge of slavery plaguing the Florida fields?  Shall we forget that men and women have risked their lives and the lives of their loved ones to escape these brutal conditions?  We shall not.

We the undersigned say no amount of slavery is ever acceptable.  And we call upon Governor Charlie Crist to:

1.  Publicly renounce the comments made by Mr. McElroy

2.  Commit the full power of his office to immediately and comprehensively addressing the plague of abuse and modern-day slavery in Florida’s fields by:

a)  meeting with the and federal officials who prosecute slavery, and

b) demanding that the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange renounce its opposition to implementing the agreements that socially responsible fast food and supermarket companies have signed to insure better pay and working conditions for tomato pickers, so as to eliminate the conditions that give rise to slavery.

Governor Crist, this crisis has come to you at this moment in history.  Your decision on how to move forward will either exacerbate human suffering or proclaim a new day for human rights in the Florida fields.  Choose this day to work toward slavery’s eradication.  The more than 1,000 men and women who have been enslaved in the past decade, and millions of decent Floridians who do not want their state’s reputation soiled with the stains of slavery, deserve nothing less.

Signatories to Open Letter to Governor Crist

U.S. Human Rights Network
Center for Constitutional Rights
Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice & Human Rights
The Freedom Network USA To Empower Trafficked and Enslaved Persons
National Economic and Social Rights Initiative
The Rev. Dr. Bob Edgar, President and CEO of Common Cause

Frances Moore Lappé, author “Diet for a Small Planet”
Eric Schlosser, author “Fast-Food Nation”
Katrina Vanden Heuvel, Editor, The Nation
Raj Patel, author “Stuffed and Starved”

Florida AFL-CIO
South Florida AFL-CIO
Colorado Jobs With Justice

United Students Against Sweatshops
National Latino/a Law Student Association
Student/Farmworker Alliance
Real Food Challenge
Student Labor Action Project
Student Action with Farmworkers

Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
Pax Christi USA
National Farm Worker Ministry
The Rev. Kent J. Siladi, Conference Minister, Florida Conference, United Church of Christ
The Rt. Rev. Leo Frade, Episcopal Bishop of Southeast Florida
The Rev. German Vega, Moderator of the South Chapter of the Hispanic Concilio, PC(USA)
The Rev. Graham P. Hart, General Presbyter, Peace River Presbytery
The Rev. Dr. Gerry Tyer, Executive Presbyter, Presbytery of Tampa Bay
The Rev. Dr. Arlene Gordon, Executive Presbyter, Presbytery of Tropical Florida
The Rev. Dr. Paige M. McRight, Executive Presbyter, Central Florida Presbytery
The Rev. Gregory Bentley, President, National Black Presbyterian Caucus
Peace and Justice Office, Catholic Diocese of Venice
Johnny Barber, Buddhist Peace Fellowship
Interfaith Action of Southwest Florida
South Florida Interfaith Worker Justice
Yale Divinity Latina/o Association
The Poverty Initiative, Union Theological Seminary

Slow Food USA
Organic Consumers Association
Family Farm Defenders
Denver Fair Food Committee
Just Food (New York)
Pesticide Action Network of North America
California Institute for Rural Studies
Coloradans For Immigrant Rights, a project of American Friends Service Committee
Other Worlds Collaborative, New Orleans
Just Harvest USA
Carolina Peace Resource Center, Columbia, SC
The Lower Eastside Girls Club
POP (Power of Peace) Community Coalition
Coalition of New South Carolinians

Scholars (Institutional Affiliation for Identification Only)

David Abraham
Professor of Law
University of Miami

Fran Ansley
Distinguished Professor of Law Emeritus
University of Tennessee College of Law
Knoxville, Tennessee

James Atleson
Professor of Law
State University of New York at Buffalo

Mark Barenberg
Professor of Law
Columbia University

Stephanie A. Bohon
Associate Professor of Sociology
University of Tennessee at Knoxville

Kate Bronfenbrenner
Professor of Industrial Relations
Cornell University

Roberto L. Corrada
Professor of Law
University of Denver Sturm College of Law

Chris Howell
Professor of Politics
Oberlin College

Karl Klare
George J. & Kathleen Waters Matthews
   Distinguished University Professor
Northeastern University School of Law

Patrick Macklem
William C. Graham Professor of Law
Uiversity of Toronto

Deborah Manville
Professor of Law
University of Washington
Gary Minda
Professor of Law
Brooklyn Law School

Maria L. Ontiveros
Professor of Law
University of San Francisco School of Law

Carol M. Parker
University of Tennessee
Knoxville, Tennessee

James G. Pope
Professor of Law & Sidney Reitman Scholar
Rutgers University School of Law

Kerry Rittich
Professor of Law
University of Toronto

Joel Rogers
Professor of Law and Political  Science
University of Wisconsin

Gay Seidman
Professor of Sociology
University of Wisconsin

Robert Steinfeld
Professor of Law
State University of New York at Buffalo

Lea VanderVelde
Josephine Witte Professor of Law
University of Iowa Law College

Marley S. Weiss
Professor of Law
University of Maryland School of Law