Case study 4 - Vi (American Samoan, 2001)

Contract slavery

In contract slavery people are usually recruited for jobs in factories and workshops far from where they live, and sometimes in other countries, but when they arrive they find they have been deceived, and are enslaved.

Vi (American Samoa, 2001)

Read information about American Samoa| and Vietnam|

Vi is Vietnamese. She signed a contract with a company that said it would take her to the USA to work, promising her a salary of $408 (about £260) a month. She borrowed $6,000 (nearly £4,000) which she paid to the company to take her to America and arrange for her to get the job.

But they didn't take her to America. Instead she found herself in American Samoa, a group of islands in the South Pacific. When she landed, her passport was confiscated and she had to work at a factory making clothes from 7 o'clock in the morning until 2 o'clock the next morning, seven days a week, without pay.

Eventually the workers found lawyers who would help them take the factory owner to court for trafficking and enslaving people, and Vi was taken to the USA. But she is still paying off her debt.

Vi's story

We were taken to American Samoa and not the United States. As soon as we landed, our passports were confiscated. At a Daewoosa shop, I had to work from 7am to 2am and sometimes to 7am the next day, and also on Saturdays and Sundays, without pay. Meals at Daewoosa consisted of a few cabbage leaves, and potatoes cooked with a lot of water. We planted some vegetables to supplement our meals, but Mr Lee, the President of Daewoosa, destroyed our garden. Undernourished, I lost 35 pounds (16kg) within one year and weighed only 78 pounds (35kg).

There was no ventilation. The temperature in the rooms sometimes went up to over 100 degrees. We were not allowed to step out for fresh air. The supervisor even kept count of how many times we went to the toilet. We lived 36 people in one room. Another worker and I shared one tiny bed.

Mr Lee used big American Samoan guards to terrorise us. Once, several workers staged a strike because they were not paid. He threatened that he would send these guards to short-circuit electric cables and cause a fire to kill us all.

Since my arrival in the US, I have sent every dollar earned back to Vietnam to pay my debt. However, this has barely made a dent because the interest rate is so high at 50%. My parents in Vietnam are very worried. If I'm allowed to remain in the US, I would like to go back to school because in Vietnam I had to stop schooling at seventh grade. I also wish to be reunited with my child left behind in Vietnam.

Questions and discussion points

  • What were the worst things about Vi's living conditions?
  • Who do you feel more angry with - the president of Daewoosa or the supervisor? Why?
  • Who was responsible for Vi's situation?
  • What would you like to ask or say to Vi?

 

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