The conversation around slavery in the United States is usually in reference to the legalized institution of slavery in our past. However, slave labor is still a prevalent issue in the underbelly of America’s economy.
The Polaris Project is a research institution focused on tracking and remedying the many forms of slavery in the United States. According to data they have collected, one of the prevalent forms of human trafficking that is quite difficult to track is human trafficking and slavery for labor. This is predominantly in the form of food-related labor, such as agriculture, restaurant, food truck, and bar employment. These forms of employment are often legally valid on paper. The illegal component comes through in the intentional miss-management of employees and negligence of their legal rights.
How Labor Trafficking Can Appear Legal On the Surface
Most often labor trafficking begins with the promise of a better life and greater opportunity in the United States to individuals from poorer places like Mexico, Central America, and Southeast Asia. There’s the assurance of making more money and potentially earning US citizenship. Traffickers will unashamedly tout “The American Dream” and prey on people’s need and hopes.
This kind of slavery will seem sound. The work itself is not illicit in any way—for instance, being a dishwasher in a restaurant or operating a fryer in a food truck. Two-thirds of these types of employees will have a legitimate work visa that their employers have helped them to obtain to work in the United States.
However, what justifies an employment situation as slavery has to do with whether or not the employer is honoring their employees legal rights to a work-rest balance with due compensation.
What Exactly Constitutes as Labor Trafficking and Slavery?
Labor traffickers will not honor an employee’s rights to due compensation for a balance of work-and-rest. For example, whenever an employee is working a nine-hour work day, they are legally entitled to set paid breaks for predetermined time increments within that workday, according to the laws established for that specific state. Employees do not have the right to demand overtime work with the threat of unemployment, nor to exceed hourly limits in a work week without due overtime pay rates as compensation. If your employer is making unlawful demands and threats in this regard, it could be a sign of human trafficking for labor.
Often traffickers will be unfair when it comes to salary and employment fees. Labor traffickers will potentially take unreasonable or unexpected fees out of an employee’s wages, take an employee’s passport from them, or if they are not a legal immigrant threaten them with deportation if they do not obey the demands of the employer or fulfill on the expected the workload.
If an employer is providing housing as part of the arrangement, they may be excessively withholding money from an employee’s wages to pay for the housing, or else they may have placed their workers in squalid and less-that-humane living conditions to save money.
If You Suspect You Are a Victim of Labor Trafficking, We Can Help
Being a victim of human trafficking can leave you feeling powerless, especially if you are just one voice among many who feel threatened with deportation, unemployment, and other personal risk. If you suspect that you are a victim of labor trafficking, there is hope.
Our team at Aiman-Smith & Marcy can provide you with the personal legal assistance that you need in order to stand up to your human traffickers, protect your human rights, and receive reasonable compensation. No one should be afraid of seeking legal justice for being taken advantage of in the form of slave labor, no matter how they are threatened by their employer. Contact our team today for an initial legal consultation, and to learn more about your options.