Migrant workers and derelicts are being exploited by farmers in the Deep South of the United States.
GV Sweet potato fields, North Carolina.
SV Potato pickers working with hands. (6 SHOTS)
SV Crew leader.
SCU Potato picker.
GV Labour camp (night) (3 SHOTS)
SV INT Lawyer's office.
SV Man talking to lawyer.
GV Labour camp (night) legal service staff go to camp.
SV Legal service staff members talking to farmer.
SV Farmer and country Sheriff. (2 SHOTS)
REPORTER:"Do you recruit a lot of the workers from the Bowery?"
CREW LEADER:Wherever we can get a man to work, we get him"
LEGAL SERVICE OFFICER:"We have complaints."
FARMER:"I don't care what kind of dammed complaints you got you don't have more complaint than you got now."
LEGAL SERVICE OFFICER:"There have been."
FARMER:"Get gone from here, hit that road right now. Go. You better go. You better walk faster than you are."
LEGAL SERVICE OFFICER:"I walk at my pace."
FARMER: "Get your ass out of here and get going."
Script is copyright Reuters Limited. All rights reserved
Background: Migrant workers and derelicts are being exploited by farmers in the Deep South of the United States. The derelicts are rounded up in the cities of the East Coast of the United States and taken to North Carolina with promises of money and cheap wine. They are put to work doing hard manual labour in the fields and are paid poverty level wages. Legal service officers claim to have evidence that the inmates of the labour camps are brutalised.
SYNOPSIS: Harvest time, in the sweet potato fields of Johnstone County, North Carolina. Sweet potatoes have to be scraped out of the earth by hand. The work is hard and the pay is low. Some workers make less than ten dollars a day. Migrant crew leaders want workers who won't complain. And they recruit drifters and derelicts they find it "skid-row" flop houses in the big cities of the East. Men who interested most in a bottle of wine at the end of the day. The crew leader found Andres, only sixteen homeless and living on the sidewalk in "the Bowery" of New York city. Andres had no idea he had been taken to North Carolina.
Once in North Carolina, alcoholic and derelicts often become the captives of the crew leader, isolated, exploited and abused. This is a migrant labout camp at night. Far off the road and miles from the nearest town. These pictures were made with a concealed camera with a special night lens. The Cadillacs here belong to the crew leaders. A crew leader can make as much as one hundred thousand, United States dollars a year, by rounding up a big crew of workers. Cheating them on wages and selling them meals and illegal liquor at exorbitant prices. These workers were waiting outside the crew leader's trailer to buy their nightly bottle of wine. A crew leader gets his men back into the sweet potato fields the next day by keeping them in debt and in wine.
Sometimes crew leaders use more than cheap wine to keep workers in the field. This man told legal services lawyers he was struck in the face and a friend badly beaten by a crew leader when they tried to escape from a camp. That night NBC News accompanied legal service officers, who went to the camp where the beatings allegedly occurred. But they were told no-one could come into the camp without the permission of the farmer. And when the legal service officers found the farmer he ordered them off his property and told them to keep out of his camp.
All this took place with a county deputy standing nearby. Legal service lawyers say local authorities and farmers often ignore serious allegations of violence and abuse by migrant crew leaders. The Sheriff said later the only problem he had was outsiders trying to stir things up.