Mexico rescues 129 workers 'abused' by S.Korean firm
MEXICO CITY - Agence France-Presse
Handout photograph released b the Mexican Secretaria de Gobernacion (Interior Ministry) that shows a raid of the National Migration Institute (INM) in a company run by South Korean owners on February 04, 2015 in Zapopan, Jalisco state, Mexico. AFP Photo.Mexican authorities have rescued 129 workers, including six children, who said they were exploited and physically and sexually abused at a garment factory run by South Koreans, officials said on Feb. 5.
Four South Korean nationals have been handed over to prosecutors in the western state of Jalisco after workers identified them as the owners or managers of the company named Yes International, the National Migration Institute (INM) said.
Authorities raided the company in the town of Zapopan on Wednesday after receiving an anonymous tip, INM coordinator Ardelio Vargas Fosado told reporters, describing the South Koreans as a "gang of suspected human traffickers."
Officials rescued 121 women and eight men, including six minors who were 16 and 17 years old.
The workers told prosecutors that they were "victims of physical and sexual abuse, as well as threats, psychological harm and grueling work days," Vargas Fosado said.
The four South Koreans could not prove whether they legally lived in Mexico. The South Korean consulate was notified to provide assistance to the suspects, officials said.
Jalisco's chief prosecutor, Luis Carlos Najera, said authorities are investigating whether child abuse and sexual crimes were committed.
The employees toiled in "unsanitary" conditions, with pollutants in their place of work, and the material they handled posed a fire hazard while the company had no fire safety equipment, said Victor Manuel Torres Moreno, a labor ministry official.
Officials also said the employees endured verbal abuse; lacked contracts; worked more than the legal eight hours per day; only had 15-minute lunches instead of half an hour; were not paid for overtime; and were not given health benefits.
The minors were handed over to their parents following the operation, but authorities are also checking their family surroundings.
Other workers were given psychological assistance.
AFP visited the work site and interviewed one of the workers, who denied physical or sexual abuse. But she did say there was verbal abuse by one of the detainees. She attributed this to Asian culture, in which she said she understood that people yell at each other a lot.
The interior ministry released pictures of the operation showing workers standing next to several boxes of clothes and stacks of textile material inside the factory, which had high walls.
It was not the first time that authorities found workers abused by employers in Jalisco.
In 2013, police rescued at least 275 people, including 39 teenagers, who were being held in slave-like conditions in a camp in Toliman, where tomatoes were sorted and packed for export.
The victims were rescued when a worker escaped and made it to Jalisco's state capital to file a complaint.
The tomato farm's workers were kept in overcrowded housing and were paid half of what had been offered, much of it delivered in vouchers redeemable at the company store, where items were sold at a high markup.