Human Trafficking for Labor: an American Disgrace
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Human Trafficking for Labor: An American Disgrace

We’ve all heard of sex trafficking, but labor trafficking? What is that, and how are people trapped and abused after the promise of a job that they actually perform?

Recruiters make promises to people in dire poverty in Latin American, Asian, African, and other poor regions such as “You will become an American citizen. You will have a great, well-paying job. You and your family will no longer be poor.” Promises are broken as hopeful people are smuggled into the country, forced to work illegal hours, and housed in packed dormitories. They pay outrageous fees for this “opportunity” that they are assured they can work off. Pay is routinely stolen, withheld, or docked for illegitimate reasons. These workers are often denied medical care and are seldom provided protective clothing and gear.

The worker is in a strange land usually not knowing the language with a huge debt, no passport or legal document, and no way to get back home. If they attempt to leave, many are threatened with deportation or physical violence, not only to themselves but to loved ones back home.  

Labor trafficking is prevalent in many areas, and the magnitude of the problem needs to be calculated industry by industry. A 2017 research study of 25 industries included three arms of the food industry (restaurants, bars, and agriculture). It should serve as a wake-up call to other industries using immigrant workers. Traveling sales crews, domestic and construction workers, nail salon and massage parlor employees, and other minimum-wage working groups are easy targets for traffickers. Polaris, an organization fighting human trafficking and helping its victims, conducted the study based on phone calls and text messages to its hotline over several years.The report was called a major breakthrough according to the radio station NPR who interviewed Bradley Myles, the CEO of Polaris.

In the food industry alone, twenty percent of the victims were found to be minors. Employers control their slave laborers by confining them to their restaurant or housing them in an often squalid, overcrowded house or apartment where they control their workers’ actions. The employers further increase their profits by charging the victims rent that exceeds fair rent in the area. A 40-hour work week is an unfamiliar concept to most of these workers. Language barriers keep them from comparing notes with employees hired under standard conditions and who know their worker rights.  

Many slave laborers had expected to send money home so their loved ones could have better lives, yet they find themselves strapped with an impossible, often increasing, debt load and declining health and energy as they lose any hope at all of realizing their dreams.  

The pay for slave laborers may appear legitimate if it is explained as piece rate, in other words by the number of items they make, the number of items they sell, or the number of people they serve.  The labor laws are quite specific that they must make minimum wage per day no matter what their output is and that they must be given the legally specified minutes of rest breaks. Usually, the worker puts in far more than eight hours to produce his “quota.” Legally mandated overtime pay is seldom discussed or provided.

Sex slavery is often entwined with labor slavery particularly for women.  Some bars and strip clubs are known to use women, and sometimes men, as unpaid wait staff who provide sexual favors in a back room or after hours. Escort services and massage parlors are often legal fronts for sexual and wage exploitation. These people, doubly victimized, lose their dignity as well as hope for the future. In these industries, especially, women are often controlled with beatings and threats of additional violence.

Once a labor or sex slave is identified, the U.S government offers programs and services to help victims rebuild their lives in the United States.

Aiman-Smith & Marcy is a law firm dedicated to exposing unethical business practices that corporations and business inflict on others. The expert team is highly motivated to uphold the rights of workers. Contact us if your rights are being violated or if you are aware of abusive practices.