The “Cage” – Slave Labour Trafficking by Tsunami Contractors in Indonesia

Interview with Award Winning Journalist Virgil Grandfield

Have you heard about the 2004 Tsunami in Indonesia that killed over 228,000 people? Of course you have. I don’t think there is a person on the planet that does not remember the most devastating tsunami to ever be recorded in history. The shear magnitude of loss, in life and property, compelled the world to come together to aide the millions of people affected by this catastrophic event. The Red Cross in Canada and many other countries, was instrumental in mobilizing international relief efforts to help those directly affected by the Tsunami.

Feature length films such as “The Impossible” and documentaries such as PBS NOVA’s broadcast, the Wave that Shook the World help to remind us of the effects the tsunami had on the countries and people physically present when the natural disaster occurred.  However, there is one story that many of us have not heard. This story is about the abuses suffered by labourer’s brought in to assist with the reconstruction efforts undertaken by unscrupulous companies contracted by the Red Cross to undertake the rebuild.  In this Special Episode I interviewed award winning journalist Virgil Grandfield who shares his first hand experience working on the ground for the Red Cross immediately after the Tsunami struck.


Many of you are probably wondering what this story has to do with Canadian immigration and why I chose to dedicate an entire Episode of the Canadian Immigration Podcast to this topic. The reason is fairly simple. It all comes down to Canada’s Temporary Foreign Worker Program and the similarities I saw between the contractors taking advantage of vulnerable labourers in Indonesia with what has occurred, and to some extent continues to occur, with the treatment of our low-skill Temporary Foreign Workers here in Canada.

virgil-grandfield-investigative-reporting-gold-award-winner-eighteen-bridges1-2Now don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that all low-skill TFWs in Canada are being treated like slave labour. That is definitely not the case. However, as I indicated in my 4 Part blog series on the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, the manner in which we administer our TFWP creates a tremendous power imbalance between employers and TFWs. It is this type of power imbalance that resulted in slave labour trafficking in Indonesia and also results in many low-skill TFWs in Canada putting up with working conditions no Canadian would ever tolerate.

So…..regardless of whether or not you agree with me, my interview with Virgil Grandfield is going to get you thinking. He took the time to share a fascinating and somewhat heart wrenching tale of the abuses he saw during the aftermath of the 2004 tsunami.

And I also think this Episode is pretty well timed given the upcoming changes to the TFWP that will likely be announced in November, just a little over a month after the release of this Episode.

During my interview with Virgil Grandfield, we covered the following topics:

  • Virgil Grandfield’s background.
  • How he got into journalism.
  • Background on the 2004 earthquake and tsunami in Indonesia.
  • Virgil’s involvement with the Red Cross after the tsunami.
  • The labour trafficking scandal in Indonesia during the Red Cross rebuild.
  • Stories about the families affected by the scandal and documented in Virgil’s article, “The Cage”.
  • Some of the other projects Virgil is working on.
  • How people can reach Virgil.

[Tweet “Labour trafficking by Red Cross Tsunami contractors – the “Cage“]

Apocalyptic dramatic background - giant tsunami waves, dark stormy sky

Apocalyptic dramatic background – giant tsunami waves, dark stormy sky

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Read the Transcript

You can read additional notes for this episode, [spoiler]

S1 E30 – Virgil Grandfield – Slave Labour Trafficking by Red Cross Tsunami Contractors in Indonesia | Show Notes

I invited Virgil Grandfield to join me today to talk about an article he wrote about slave labour trafficking by Red Cross Tsunami Contractors in Indonesia following the reconstruction efforts following the Tsunami of 2004 that killed approximately 228,000 people.

Virgil’s article “The Cage” published by Eighteen Bridges, an Alberta literary magazine, as “Are you ready to die?” was recently awarded a gold medal for investigative journalism by the National Magazine Awards Foundation.

Tell us a little bit about yourself.

How did you get into journalism?

Remind our listeners about the 2004 earthquake and tsunami in Indonesia.

Tell us about your involvement with the Red Cross effort after the Tsunami

Share some background on the labour trafficking scandal

Talk a little bit about the families affected by the scandal and your article, “The Cage” which received the journalism award.

Tell us about some of your other projects that we should watch out for:

  • Full-length book on the scandal
  • CBC Television Documentary

Thanks for joining us…what is the best way of reaching you if people would like to learn more?


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