USA: Nonprofit drug rehab program allegedly sends patients to work without pay at Exxon, Shell & Walmart; incl. company responses

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Article
21 May 2019

Drug rehab faces investigations into labor practices and Medicaid fraud

Author: Shoshana Walter, Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting

State officials in Texas and Louisiana have launched multiple probes into the Cenikor Foundation following an investigation by Reveal that found the prominent drug rehab has turned patients into an unpaid labor force for private companies. Reveal... found that the nonprofit has sent thousands of patients to work without pay at hundreds of for-profit companies over the years – including Exxon, Shell and Walmart – in likely violation of federal labor law... In addition to the government investigations, former patients are suing the program for back wages in four separate lawsuits, and two of Cenikor’s biggest work contracts have stopped using workers from the program... Brand Industrial Services, which previously dispatched Cenikor patients to work at oil refineries and chemical plants, also has stopped using workers from the program. “It is our expectation that our suppliers comply with all applicable laws and regulations,” said spokeswoman Karla Cuculi. “We are currently evaluating the use of Cenikor as a temporary labor source.”... In addition to long work days, many also frequently worked in unsafe conditions and were injured on the job.

... In a statement provided to Reveal, Cenikor said it follows state regulations. The program declined to comment on the business contracts, investigations or lawsuits... In Texas, the Health and Human Services Commission is investigating allegations of abuse, neglect and exploitation at Cenikor, as well as worker injuries... The Louisiana Workforce Commission, which enforces labor law in the state, is “conducting a full investigation into this matter,” a spokesman said.

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Article
20 May 2019

Patients have allegedly worked without pay & in dangerous conditions as part of Cenikor Foundation drug rehabilitation programme

Author: Reveal, The Center for Investigative Reporting

"They worked in sweltering heat for Exxon, Shell and Walmart. They didn't get a dime." 

A nationally renowned drug rehab program in Texas and Louisiana has sent patients struggling with addiction to work for free for some of the biggest companies in America, likely in violation of federal labor law. The Cenikor Foundation has dispatched tens of thousands of patients to work without pay at more than 300 for-profit companies over the years... [P]atients have moved boxes in a sweltering warehouse for Walmart, built an oil platform for Shell and worked at an Exxon refinery along the Mississippi River. “It’s like the closest thing to slavery,” said Logan Tullier, a former Cenikor participant who worked 10 hours per day at oil refineries, laying steel rebar in 115-degree heat. 

... All participants have to do is surrender their pay to cover the costs of the two-year program. But the constant work leaves little time for counseling or treatment, transforming the rehab into little more than a cheap and expendable labor pool for private companies... At some job sites, participants lacked proper supervision, safety equipment and training, leading to routine injuries... [I]n a statement, Cenikor officials said the work provides “a career path for clients to be hired by companies who traditionally do not hire those with felony convictions, allowing them to return to a life of being a responsible, contributing member of society.” They said they follow all state and federal laws... Many Cenikor participants work for a network of subcontractors that then dispatch them to the major companies... Walmart said it found Cenikor’s labor arrangement troubling and pledged to investigate... Exxon said...  the company “contractually requires all of our suppliers to comply with all applicable environmental, health, safety and labor laws for themselves and their subcontractors.”

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Company response
16 May 2019

Response from Shell

Author: Shell

Shell had no prior knowledge of these allegations. This matter is now under investigation. Shell takes very seriously the labor laws in every location in which we operate. Our suppliers and contractors are vetted to ensure they meet all applicable laws and Shell’s unconditional ethics and safety requirements.

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Company response
8 May 2019

Response from ExxonMobil

Author: ExxonMobil

ExxonMobil has conducted a thorough internal investigation of these inaccurate and unsubstantiated third party allegations. ExxonMobil had a direct contract with Cajun Constructors in 2013 and 2015, and we found no documentation that Cajun Constructors, or any subcontractor company of Cajun Constructors, used Cenikor Foundation for any labor at our refinery. To suggest that individuals from the Cenikor Foundation performed unpaid work at our ExxonMobil Refinery, is not credible. ExxonMobil’s Standards of Business Conduct provides a worldwide framework for responsible operations and are consistent with the spirit and intent of the Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work of the 1998 International Labor Organization (ILO) Declaration.

If there is additional information that is brought to our attention regarding labor violations or unfair labor practices, we will consider all legal options, which may include seeking compensation for unpaid workers. We contractually require all suppliers to comply with all applicable environmental, health, safety, and labor laws for themselves and their subcontractors. We deny any allegations of misconduct, and we will defend ourselves against any such false claims. Any additional information in regards to these claims and allegations should be directed towards Cajun Constructors.

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Article
8 May 2019

Response from Walmart

Author: Walmart

These allegations involve a third-party logistics provider that was responsible for staffing and personnel needs for its operations at the facility before Walmart took over operations of the Baytown distribution center in 2017. These allegations are troubling and are being taken very seriously as we look into the matter. Our expectation is that all vendors and providers follow applicable laws and regulations.

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