No, I'm not speaking metaphorically. Apparently in this day and age, on this continent, people are being held against their will, beaten and abused, and forced to work for little or no pay. There's no evidence of an actual slave trade, with people sold from one owner to another, or of babies being born into slavery, but nonetheless there are North American slaves today. Perhaps it's no surprise that the task they are set to, harvesting crops in the warmest parts of the USA, is what most of us have in our heads when we think about long-ago slavery on this continent.
This well researched article in Gourmet, and the articles to which it links, lay it all out. There is no dispute that at least some agricultural workers were in fact enslaved. The only issue is whether it's really common or an isolated incident. Here's a quote:
But when asked if it is reasonable to assume that an American who has eaten a fresh tomato from a grocery store or food-service company during the winter has eaten fruit picked by the hand of a slave, Molloy said, “It is not an assumption. It is a fact.”
Hm. Another reason to eat locally and seasonally. I do realize that our insistence on the lowest price for everything is one of the pressures that make abuses like this seem a reasonable course to some people. The article concludes with this suggestion if you, like me, like to buy tomatoes in the winter:
... take advantage of the fact that fruits and vegetables must be labeled with their country of origin. Most of the fresh tomatoes in supermarkets during winter months come from Florida, where labor conditions are dismal for field workers, or from Mexico, where they are worse, according to a CIW spokesman. One option during these months is to buy locally produced hydroponic greenhouse tomatoes, including cluster tomatoes still attached to the vine. Greenhouse tomatoes are also imported from Mexico, however, so check signage or consult the little stickers often seen on the fruits themselves to determine their source.