By Mehroz Siraj
Federal US authorities and the police in New York and Virginia seized 14 7-Eleven stores on June 17.
At these stores, it was revealed that immigrant workers living undocumented in the United States were being employed and exploited.
Pakistani immigrants Farrukh Baig and his wife Bushra were arrested along with seven other store owner-managers on the charges of resorting to identity theft and for employing and exploiting undocumented immigrants, CNN reported.
In her statement, New York attorney Loretta Lynch said that the charges leveled against these store managers and owners were severe, CNN reported.
Loretta further added that many of the undocumented immigrants who worked for Farrukh and Bushra had come forward to report their ordeals to federal authorities, the police and the 7-Eleven Corporation.
Loretta said that interviews with these immigrants had revealed that they were being paid only a pittance and even then, they were paying rentals for the accommodation that was provided to them by Farrukh and Ayesha.
Most of the accommodation provided was substandard, the workers said.
Interviews of the immigrants also revealed that most of them were made to work for over 100 hours a week and that this cycle of exploitation was going on for 13 years, the Virginia based CBS6 news station reported.
Farrukh and Bushra were exploiting immigrants mainly from the Philippines and their own native homeland, Pakistan.
US federal authorities also said that the franchises of the arrested owner-managers had been forfeited were now being run by the 7-Eleven corporation itself.
The entire issue had drawn a firm response from the corporation,which announced that the franchisees could be fined in excess of $1,100 for every single act of violation that was uncovered, CNN reported.
Strong action has been threatened against franchisees who were caught employing undocumented workers or were exploiting them.
In a letter addressed to all 7-Eleven franchisees across the United States the corporation said that it would undertake a complete audit of its franchised outlets across that country, starting from early next month.
The audit would be done in order to ensure that the franchisees were abiding by the agreements that they made with the corporation, CNN reported.
The audit would also unravel any potential case in which the concerned franchisee(s) may not be operating within the legal ambits of United States laws, it was reported.
The letter pledged firm action against those who were caught ripping off their workers.
Strict penalties for franchisees who were caught resorting to identity theft and were employing undocumented immigrants have also been announced, CNN reported.
These revelations in the United States have come about two years after similar rorts were reported at 7-Eleven’s franchised stores in Australia.
In 2011, a magistrate’s court in Melbourne fined a local 7-Eleven franchisee a hefty sum of $150,000 when it became known that he had been paying his employees less than that minimum legal wages.
His employees were predominantly of African and Indian background and had been living in Australia on student visas while they worked for him, for more than five years.
The franchisee made those international students work over 100 hours a week for very low wages, a potential crime under Australian workplace laws.
The detailed court hearings had drawn the attention of the Australian arm of the 7-Eleven Corporation.
However, detailed research done in Australia by labour and student welfare organizations has shown that the corporation had taken no real steps to root out migrant exploitation at its franchised stores across the southern land.