Over the Labor Day weekend, a delegation of labor, employment and international human rights law experts released a report detailing the findings of an independent investigation they conducted into the numerous abuses that hundreds of J-1 student guestworkers from around the world allege to have suffered at the hands of their “sponsor” CETUSA, and their multiple employers, the Exel North American Logistics Company, SHS Onsite Solutions and The Hershey Company. These conditions motivated the J-1 workers to protest their conditions by walking out, striking and demonstrating at the Hershey plant in Palmyra, Pa., actions which we have voiced our strong support for.
The delegation’s report cites evidence of “a widespread coercive campaign” by Hershey’s subcontractors to intimidate students who organized for basic human and labor rights. It also found numerous “potential legal violations, including discrimination, forced labor, substandard conditions of work, wage theft, and infringement on associational rights.” Ultimately, the authors note that their investigation “revealed numerous credible accounts of a program gone seriously wrong.” The delegation’s report is also consistent with what EPI’s research has revealed about the J-1 program, namely that the U.S. State Department does not have adequate labor and employment protections in place for the foreign workers who participate.
The State Department and the Department of Labor are now conducting four federal investigations looking into the events that took place at the Hershey factory. While we commend both agencies for their efforts and prompt response, the delegation’s report makes it clear that these investigations must be thorough and transparent, and the findings should be made public.
One of the delegation’s principal recommendations is that the State Department suspend CETUSA’s authority to continue sponsoring student workers and issuing J-1 visas. We strongly agree that this is an appropriate course of action, at least until the findings of the four ongoing federal investigations have been revealed. We also hope – as the delegation calls for – that all of the responsible parties will be held accountable for any legal violations that have been committed.