Thursday, September 8, 2011

The Government Calls It "Labor Therapy"

A report released Wednesday by the Human Rights Watch (HRW) states that 40,000 Vietnamese drug addicts are currently being held in 123 "rehabilitation centers" across the country, where they are denied actual treatment for their addictions and are forced to work in sweatshop-like conditions, doing things like "process[ing] cashew nuts, sew[ing] garments, and weav[ing] baskets," according to an article the The New York Times released yesterday. Many of these products are then shipped to first-world consumers, often without the knowledge of the company who initially ordered the work. That jacket liners were sewn in detention centers for Columbia Sportswear, for example, was a "surprise" to Peter Bragdon, senior vice president for legal and corporate affairs.

These centers, which the Vietnamese government promote as "labor therapy," were designed after the fall of the South Vietnamese government in 1975 and primarily target heroin addicts as a way to "restore their dignity and learn the value of hard work." They fail on both accounts, however: relapse rates are above 80%, primarily because the only "rehabilitation" the addicts receive are marching in formation and chanting slogans like "Try your best to quit drugs!"

These centers are primarily ways to ensure cheap labor for mass-produced goods without the additional responsibility of actually paying the workers or treating their health concerns. That it happens in Vietnam, particularly within programs designed by the old nationalist/communist government of the North Vietnamese, should perhaps not come as an enormous surprise. That it also happens in the United States should come as a surprise. But it does, and the Human Rights Watch would be wise to turn an eye to addict abuse in America as well.

I've found, in research I've been doing for an upcoming conference paper about teen drug rehabilitation in the United States, that both Teen Challenge houses and a series of Lester Roloff-inspired homes (both in Florida) have been charged with using their young residents to work as groundskeepers, housecleaners, professional 'beggars' (standing outside grocery stores asking for money), and telemarketers, often for payments of less than $.33 a day. The residents - teenagers whose parents enrolled them in these Christian-based rehab centers when their behavior became unacceptable - receive no real drug addiction counseling or rehabilitation. They're instead given the Jesus-based version of the Vietnamese slogan, "Try your best to quit drugs!" And the money they make in these ventures all goes straight back to the rehab centers themselves.

Most of these cases have taken place in states were government intervention in Christian-based enterprises is extremely limited (Texas, Missouri, and Florida, among others), allowing the flagrant abuses of teenagers to take place without any kind of regulation or restriction. These American centers too are designed to 'restore the teens' dignity and teach them the value of hard work.' But again, as in Vietnam, these "rehabilitation centers" fail on both accounts. Instead, the 'Christians' who run these camps profit from the work of innocent children, few of whom ever receive anything close to 'treatment.'

Unpaid labor straight from society's most abject - drug users - is quite clearly a global phenomenon.

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