Undocumented workers exploited in pizza chain

Undocumented workers exploited in pizza chain forced labor scheme

  • Published on
    June 8, 2024
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  • Category:
    Forced Labor, Law & Policy
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A 48-year-old owner of an American pizza chain was recently found guilty of exploiting undocumented workers in a forced labor scheme which relied on their irregular migration status. Prosecutors outlined how Stavros “Steve” Papantoniadis abused and threatened to report six undocumented workers to immigration authorities, exploiting their vulnerable status to maintain control.

Preying on irregular migrants

Papantoniadis, who owns three pizza restaurants, was convicted on multiple counts of forced labor and attempted forced labor. The exploitation was facilitated by the victims’ lack of legal status leading the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Massachusetts to highlight how stringent anti-migrant policies can inadvertently foster environments conducive to abuse and human trafficking.

“Mr. Papantoniadis preyed on the desperation of those without immigration status, subjecting them to violence and threats of deportation.”

Over 14 years, Papantoniadis coerced workers into grueling 14-hour shifts, seven days a week, according to federal prosecutors. Evidence given during the trial showed Papantoniadis deliberately hired workers without legal immigration status, exploiting their vulnerability.

Pocharapon Neammanee for the Huffington Post reports,

Prosecutors said Papantoniadis would “maintain control” over some undocumented workers by making them believe he would physically harm them or have them deported, according to the announcement. Others reported they were physically abused at work. In all, the experiences of six victims ― five men and one woman ― were detailed in the trial.

In one instance cited by prosecutors, Papantoniadis “violently choked” a worker after learning he intended to quit. Another worker who tried to quit and flee the pizza shop was chased down by Papantoniadis, who made a false police report to pressure him to return.

Testimonies also included an instance where a Muslim worker was physically assaulted and threatened with death if he sought medical help.

The broader implications of anti-migrant policies

The conviction of Papantoniadis should serve as a wake-up call about the risks associated with draconian immigration policies. Instead of ensuring security and order, these policies often drive undocumented workers into the hands of unscrupulous employers. More humane and inclusive immigration policies could prevent such abuses by providing protections that currently do not exist for undocumented individuals.

Papantoniadis now faces up to 20 years in prison and hefty fines but immigration policies that protect rather than make more vulnerable are far from reality in the U.S., Europe and the U.K.

The Freedom United community is urging governments worldwide, including Australia, to enact laws and policies that protect migrants from modern slavery risks and other exploitative situations. In order to protect human rights and uphold global norms, immigration laws must prioritize these values.

Join us today! Sign the petition and stand up for freedom.


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