Everyday Activist - American Factory | Trafficked in America (Oscars 2020)

Posted on Monday, January 13, 2020 at 06:00 PM

American Factory | Trafficked in America (Oscars 2020)

Movie Review by Everyday Activist X CalgaryMovies.com

While I appreciate Netflix making films available, I wasn’t a fan of this year’s crop of either their documentary shorts or features. Yet, PBS had a fantastic short documentary that most likely didn’t make the Oscars shortlist due to the strength of the food lobby. Available on Kanopy with your Calgary Public Library card, Trafficked in America is about children lured from poor places such as Guatemala to work on egg farms in Ohio. The abuse takes place the same time Dayton, Ohio workers at the new Chinese Fuyao glass plant want to form a union in American Factory.

In terms of documentary filmmaking, directors Julia Reichert and Steve Bognar presented a balanced view between the corporation and workers both Chinese and American. They credit their co-producers, Mijie Li and Yiquian Zhang, for helping gain the trust of Fuyao executives including the Chairman, Cho Tak Wong. Capturing his personal disclosure about building factories, aroused my curiosity around his rags to riches story. The workers at the Chinese Fuyao plant talked about their struggles. Unfortunately, the film didn’t have enough time to explain the context some workers had. A woman working at Fuyao in China, supported her children in the village. Western audiences don’t understand that movement within China is restricted. Parents living in rural areas, who want a better education for their children can’t bring them to live where they work without losing services such as free school tuition among others to dissuade relocation. One Chinese man relocated to the US for two years, before his family could follow.

Knowing that no one had it easy, kept race relations friendly. Most of the ire was with the low pay, unsafe working conditions and long hours. Corporations no matter their nationality are always looking to save on labor. Ohio’s Trillium Farms would hire contract labor from companies who would lure teenagers from villages in central America to work as slaves in the United States. Families would have to give up the deed to their home as payment for their child to leave with the smuggler. At the American border, the guards allowed anyone to claim the children, failing to take fingerprints from claimants or keep track of where the minors went. Once at the farms, they were made to work long hours and live in horrible conditions.

Industrial agricultural has extraordinary power. Corporations used public law enforcement to keep citizens from witnessing abusive practices against people and animals. During the filming, the journalists were pulled over by a sheriff and asked why they were at the egg farm. Investigations of human rights violations involving the egg industry were done in the mid 1990s. Eventually, Trillium Farms talked to reporters, denying knowledge of human trafficking, despite a direct supervisor being part of another company supplying the labor. Because Trillium wouldn’t allow them to film on site, the journalists used cell phone footage taken by some of the workers in addition to the video sent by the company. Lack of transparency suggests the violence continues.

As a global community our values need to shift to a place where success is only meaningful if we all have a share. Social business trends are on the rise, yet we still have a long way to go before ending exploitation of the vulnerable. Globalization provides opportunities, but healthy communities form at the local level. Teachers noticed children were exhausted in classes causing them to gather information to take action against abusive work practices. Rather than trying to form a union, the workers should have pointed out to the Ohio government that taxpayers paid millions of dollars to have Fuyao come that can’t be recouped with lower taxation brackets and if people can’t afford to spend as much in the consumer economy. While the challenge seems insurmountable, if we do our best to be kind our intentions will ripple.  

Calgary Showtimes: American Factory > | Trafficked in America >


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