The Hard Truth on Labor Trafficking

Image credit: 
National Human Trafficking Hotline

There is a common misconception that human trafficking consists only sexual exploitation. This couldn't be further from the truth. While sexual exploitation does make up most cases of human trafficking, there is another type that makes up nearly as many cases: labor trafficking. Labor trafficking, commonly referred to as forced labor, is the second most common type of human trafficking, yet doesn't get nearly as much attention as sex trafficking. Labor trafficking is a horrendous crime, and deserves to be recognized. As January is National Human Trafficking Awareness month, I will be writing articles dedicated to human trafficking.

What is labor trafficking? Defined by the Human Trafficking Hotline, "Labor trafficking is a form of modern-day slavery in which individuals perform labor or services through the use of force, fraud, or coercion." The top 5 states for labor trafficking are the following: California, Florida, Texas, Georgia, and New York. Why is labor trafficking so prevalent? Unfortunately, for the same reason sex trafficking is prevalent: supply and demand. 

Labor trafficking has, unfortunately, become mainstream in our society. Consumers demand the latest products, the newest clothes, or the best foods. Agriculture, textiles, and manufacturing are some of the top industries where labor trafficking occurs. Traffickers take advantage of vulnerable individuals to meet these demands, because this makes money. According to the Bureau of International Labor Affairs, "The most common agricultural goods listed are sugarcane, cotton, coffee, tobacco, cattle, rice, and fish. In the manufacturing sector, bricks, garments, textiles, footwear, carpets, and fireworks appear most frequently. In mined or quarried goods, gold, coal and diamonds are most common." These items are certainly shocking, because you probably buy these things a lot.

Why is labor trafficking so horrible? People living under these conditions are rarely paid (if paid at all), and forced to work in dangerous conditions. They're forced to work long, hard hours, with little to no breaks. It's backbreaking labor. They're also not allowed to leave or the trafficker threatens them (usually with deportation, violence, or harm to their families). It's an evil practice. In an interview for FRONTLINE documentary Trafficked in America, a former Trillium worker revealed how the children forced to work were constantly threatened if they didn't do their work or complained about the pay. "Many of my friends told me that they received death threats — they would kill their father, their mother — if they didn’t want to pay or work." Trillium is currently under investigation for allegedly trafficking illegal minors for labor.

This is why many experts believe that labor trafficking cases actually surpass sex trafficking. The reason we see sex trafficking is higher is because it is more mainstream and somewhat easier to detect. We won't know how prevalent labor trafficking is unless the media, the government, law enforcement, and even society recognizes the seriousness of labor trafficking.

How can you recognize the signs of labor trafficking? Based on Polaris Project's model, here are the top red flags you should be aware of for labor trafficking:
  • Feel pressured by their employer to stay in a job or situation they want to leave
  • Do not have control of their passport or other identity documents
  • Owe money to an employer or recruiter and/or not being paid what they were promised or are owed
  • Are living and working in isolated conditions, largely cut off from interaction with others or support systems
  • Appear to be monitored by another person when talking or interacting with others
  • Are living in dangerous, overcrowded or inhumane conditions provided by an employer
  • Are being threatened by their boss with deportation or other harm
  • Are working in dangerous conditions, without proper safety gear, training, adequate breaks and other protections
You can check out Polaris Project to learn more facts about labor trafficking.

Labor trafficking is equally evil as sex trafficking. Traffickers take advantage of the most vulnerable among us, and use them for profits. The best way you can fight this issue is by becoming a conscious consumer. By paying attention to what you buy, you can make an impact against these evil traffickers. You want to make a statement? Buy organic groceries or from a local farmer. Buy products from certified, transparent and responsible companies that place people over products. Tell your friends and family about this, and help others become informed in becoming a conscious consumer. If we all do our part, we can make a difference in this fight.

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