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Cultural exchange programs

Is DOJ cultural exchange program exploiting foreign students for profit, sweatshop labor?

Thursday, November 24, 2011 by: Jonathan Benson, staff writer
Tags: cultural exchange programs, sweatshop labor, health news

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(NaturalNews) Every year, thousands of students from countries around the world enroll in seasonal exchange programs that allow them to work in the US for the summer, learn better English, and get a taste of American culture for their own enrichment. But a group of foreign students working at a Hershey chocolate factory in rural Pennsylvania says that the program is actually exploiting students for profit and sweatshop labor.

According to the Washington Post (WP), John Bilan, a student from Romania, and more than 300 other exchange students working at the Hershey factory in question, recently organized a massive walkout and protest of both Hershey and the US Department of Justice (DOJ), which oversees the exchange program.

The students say that, instead of offering them the opportunities they were promised, the program has forced them to work long, strenuous hours in a factory for little pay. And rather than be able to meet Americans and immerse themselves in American culture like they were promised, the students have allegedly been forced to work in a sweatshop-type environment.

"My parents agreed to send me because it would be a way to improve my English," wrote Aysel Kiyake, a student from Turkey, in an affidavit for the National Guestworker Alliance (NGA), a membership-based organization that promotes guestworker interests.

"They told us the job would be easy and fun and they would have pizza parties for us," added Kiyake, who paid about $3,000 to cover the travel costs and work visa fees required to participate in the exchange program, according to the WP.

The student group alleges that the Council for Educational Travel USA (CETUSA), the nonprofit group that manages the exchange program on behalf of the DOJ, has been exploiting foreign students by making them work long hours for little pay. They also allege that foreign exchange sweatshop labor has usurped well-paid union labor, which in turn has prevented locals from getting and keeping the jobs they need.

"While the State Department was asleep at the wheel, this entire program has turned into a captive labor source where students are exploited for profit," claims Saket Soni, executive director of the New Orleans Workers' Center for Racial Justice.

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