After Hurricane Katrina charged through the southern US in 2005, inflicting damages worth an estimated $108 billion, Alabama-based Signal International hired some 500 Indian workers to help with repair and rebuilding in the wake of the storm.

These workers reportedly paid $10,000 each to a recruitment agency that hired on behalf of the marine fabrication company – and were promised well-paid jobs and even green cards.

After they arrived in 2006, the workers found themselves forced to live in guarded labour camps at Signal’s shipyards in Mississippi, and paid $1,050 every month to live in 1,800 square feet units that were shared by two dozen men.

By 2008, workers began filing the first of the 11 lawsuits that would be launched against Signal International.

“For more than one year, hundreds of Indian workers at Signal International have been living like slaves,” a former Signal worker Sabulal Vijayan said during a March 2008 protest. “Today the workers are coming out to declare their freedom. This trafficking needs to end.”

On February 18, a New Orleans jury heard the first of those cases and awarded five workers $14 million. That’s the largest amount ever awarded by a jury in a labour trafficking case, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.

And while that’s a sizable compensation for the plaintiffs – Jacob Joseph Kadakkarappally, Hemant Khuttan, Andrews Issac Padaveettiyl, Sony Vasudevan Sulekha and Palanyandi Thangamani – scores of workers still await their turn for receiving justice after suffering some truly harrowing conditions.

In 2011, American journalist Dan Rather investigated the issue and obtained secretly recorded footage showing exactly how these hundreds of Indian workers lived.

Here is an excerpt from Rather’s investigation:

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