Realities-about-Human-Labor-Trafficking-in-California.jpg (4297×2317)From men to women and from boys to girls, human labor trafficking — or modern day slavery — occurs when anyone compels or coerces a vulnerable individual to provide labor and/or services by depriving or violating their personal liberty, and is a crime, punishable by law.

Human Labor Trafficking in California

The State of California Department of Justice states “…human trafficking, also known as trafficking in persons or modern-day slavery, is a crime that involves compelling or coercing a person to provide labor or services, or to engage in commercial sex acts…As codified in the California Penal Code, anyone who deprives or violates the personal liberty of another with the intent to obtain forced labor or services, procure or sell the individual for commercial sex, or exploit the individual in obscene matter, is guilty of human trafficking. Depriving or violating a person’s liberty includes ‘substantial and sustained restriction of another’s liberty accomplished through fraud, deceit, coercion, violence, duress, menace, or threat of unlawful injury to the victim or to another person, under circumstances where the person receiving or apprehending the threat reasonably believes that it is likely that the person making the threat would carry it out’…Forced labor or services include ‘labor or services that are performed or provided by a person and are obtained or maintained through force, fraud, or coercion, or equivalent conduct that would reasonably overbear the will of the person’.”

15 Tragic Realities about Human Labor Trafficking in California

Here are 15 tragic realities about human trafficking in California:

Human trafficking is one of the fastest growing criminal enterprises because it holds relatively low risk with high profit potential. Criminal organizations are increasingly attracted to human trafficking because, unlike drugs, humans can be sold repeatedly.

  1. There are more human slaves in the world today than ever before in history.
  2. There are an estimated 27 million adults and 13 million children around the world who are victims of human trafficking.
  3. Although human trafficking is often a hidden crime and accurate statistics are difficult to obtain, researchers estimate that more than 80% of trafficking victims are female. Over 50% of human trafficking victims are children.
  4. Most human trafficking in the United States occurs in New York, California, and Florida.
  5. Women are trafficked to the U.S. largely to work in sweatshops, domestic servitude, and agricultural work.
  6. Human trafficking is estimated to surpass the drug trade in less than five years.
  7. In approximately 54% of human trafficking cases, the recruiter is a stranger, and in 46% of the cases, the recruiters know the victim. Fifty-two percent of human trafficking recruiters are men, 42% are women, and 6% are both men and women.
  8. Human trafficking around the globe is estimated to generate a profit of anywhere from $9 billion to $31.6 billion. Half of these profits are made in industrialized countries.
  9. Human traffickers often work with corrupt government officials to obtain travel documents and seize passports.
  10. Due to globalization, every continent of the world has been involved in human trafficking, including a country as small as Iceland.
  11. Today, slaves are cheaper than they have ever been in history. The population explosion has created a great supply of workers, and globalization has created people who are vulnerable and easily enslaved.
  12. The FBI estimates that over 100,000 children and young women are trafficked in America today. They range in age from nine to 19, with the average being age 11. Many victims are not just runaways or abandoned, but are from “good” families who are coerced by clever traffickers.
  13. The largest human trafficking case in recent U.S. history occurred in Hawaii in 2010. Global Horizons Manpower, Inc., a labor-recruiting company, bought 400 immigrants in 2004 from Thailand to work on farms in Hawaii. They were lured with false promises of high-paying farm work, but instead their passports were taken away and they were held in forced servitude until they were rescued in 2010.
  14. According to the U.S. State Department, human trafficking is one of the greatest human rights challenges of this century, both in the United States and around the world.
  15. Today, a slave costs about $90 on average worldwide.

Causes of Human Labor Trafficking

Most instances of forced labor occur as unscrupulous recruiters and employers take advantage of gaps in law enforcement to exploit vulnerable workers. These workers are made more vulnerable to forced labor practices because of unemployment, poverty, crime, discrimination, corruption, political conflict, and cultural acceptance of forced labor. Immigrants are particularly vulnerable, but individuals are also often forced into labor in their own countries.

California Industries with the Highest Human Labor Trafficking

California is the worst state in the nation for labor trafficking. According to the website, “…[there were] 705 cases of human trafficking…reported [in 2018], making it the state with the highest human trafficking rate in the USA…in our article on worst states for human trafficking in America, we ranked highest human trafficking states using the data provided by the National Human Trafficking Resource Center. California occupied the 1st place on our list, with an estimated 2.55 human trafficking victims per 100.000 people.”

Topping the list of 11 worst states for human trafficking in America, research has shown that there might be nearly 500,000 cases of undocumented victims from Mexico who have been victims of labor trafficking. To respond to this, California has enacted several laws which have deemed human trafficking to be a severe offense with matching punishment. However, according to the aforementioned statistics, these laws seem to have had little to no effect.

Industries in which piece rate pay jobs are common include:

Piece-Rate Wage in California

As the world’s largest producer of strawberries, the United States continues to have a higher production demand year after year, thereby increasing the need for field workers. “With the demand of strawberries increasing every year, farmers all over the world are looking for cheaper ways to produce their fruit… We are going to look at…California — a location that benefits from unfair labor practices in order to decrease their costs of production…In 2014 alone, the United States produced three billion pounds of strawberries. 70% of these berries came from 41,500 acres in California with a yield per acre of 50,500 pounds. California has the perfect climate for strawberry harvesting which allows for a year-round growing season, effectively making it the best state for production in the U.S.

“Due to the time sensitive nature of the strawberry harvest, California employers rely heavily on the labor of migrant workers. Of the migrants in California today, anywhere from 30 percent to 60 percent, depending upon the crop, are illegal immigrants. Children of these workers also tend to accompany their parents when they are not enrolled in school in order to increase the family income, some will even come to work and forgo school entirely. Strawberry harvesters are often paid on a piece rate wage. Meaning workers get paid based on the amount of ‘units’ they can produce. It’s a convenient system for agriculture because it’s easily measurable and it’s characterized by repetitive actions. However, daily earnings are calculated by individual worker productivity, so a slower worker can pick berries for the same amount of time (sometimes 13 hours a day), yet get paid much less than their faster counterparts.   The demand for strawberries has gone up 13% in the past few years. People are buying more strawberries and have no idea (or don’t want to know) the true way in which they are harvested. For the migrant workers in the U.S. who harvest strawberries to make a living, people suggest throwing out the ‘piece-rate wage‘. The piece rate wage makes it much harder for slower workers to even make it to minimum wage if they aren’t able to collect as many berries as others. These workers are getting paid wages that are impossible to make a living out of!

Working for a piece rate does not mean that employers are exempt from paying minimum wage or overtime requirements, which vary among nations and states. Piece rate compensation is based on paying a specified sum for completing a particular task or making a particular item. In California, compensation is now required for piece-rate workers during mandated rest and recovery periods and other work time that does not generate piece-rate earnings. Employers are required to pay back wage payments to works for previously uncompensated or under compensated rest and recovery periods and other nonproductive time, in exchange for relief from statutory penalties and other damages.

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Lisseth Bayona


Education and Background

I am a Los Angeles native and daughter of Salvadorian immigrants. From an early age, my parents instilled the value of hard work and education in me and my two siblings. Their perseverance enabled each of us to graduate from college and earn professional degrees.

My interest and commitment to workers’ rights have roots in my parents’ experiences as undocumented workers in Los Angeles. Witnessing the challenges they faced inspired me to pursue a career where I can help individuals confronted with similar struggles. To help someone in those moments is very satisfying. I love connecting with people and learning about their stories. I believe that dignity in the workplace is a right of all workers, not a convenience or privilege reserved for employees of a certain race, gender, age, sexual orientation, or gender identity.

Legal Experience

I received my J.D. from the University of Southern California (USC) Gould School of Law. While there, I served as a judicial extern to the Honorable Patrick J. Walsh of the United States District Court for the Central District of California, where I drafted a criminal judicial opinion. Also, while at Gould, I served as an extern for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California. As a Criminal Division Extern, I had the opportunity to work closely with a trial team of Assistant U.S. Attorneys on a money laundering case which further sparked my interest in litigation.

Personal Interests

In my free time, I enjoy urban vegetable gardening, traveling, and spending time with my nephew and niece. I also love to spend time at San Onofre Beach learning to surf, although admittedly, I am not very good.



Hallie L. Von Rock

Attorney (SBN 233152)

Education and Background

I moved to the Bay Area from Washington after graduating high school. I had been accepted to UC Berkeley through a program where I could defer for two years while getting my California residency and attending community college, which was significant since I was paying for college on my own. I began working for Randall Aiman-Smith and Reed Marcy in 1996 as an office manager while taking night classes. My first foray into the legal world was soon after starting at the firm when I was ready to transfer to UC Berkeley. Rather than accepting my resident status, the Board of Regents took the position that California residency required a student to be in California “two calendar years.” Randall and Reed took up my case with the same verve as they helped their actual clients and I got the chance to comb through the UC Berkeley library to read their codes and regulations to support my position. In that experience, I learned what is was like to feel helpless against a big organization and then to have dedicated attorneys in my corner to take up my cause.

After a break to pursue my major in art history, I went to UC Hastings College of Law and continued working with Randall and Reed. Having worked together now for over 25 years, we have a unique ability to work collaboratively and finish each other’s sentences. I have strived throughout my career to make a difference in the lives of our clients. At the end of the day, if I am helping someone to get compensation for losses they suffered, then I know that all the work put into a case has been worth it.

Legal Experience

I have extensive experience in civil litigation and class action cases, including conducting discovery and depositions, calculating damages analysis, preparing motions for certification, writing appellate documents, and overseeing claims administration. We have handled several class actions against retailers where plaintiffs claimed they were forced to purchase clothing to wear to work and were not compensated for these purchases, including against Abercrombie & Fitch, Hugo Boss, Armani Exchange, Uniqlo, Dollar Tree, and Ross. Recently, I was trial counsel in a defamation claim against Bank of America on behalf of a former employee who claimed the Bank blacklisted her with future employers. The jury found Bank of America liable, including for punitive damages.

Personal Interests

Aiman-Smith & Marcy has sponsored me in the Boston Marathon and New York Marathon. When I race, I often wear a “Rockstar Ronan” shirt to support research for childhood cancer through The Ronan Thompson Foundation.


University of California, Berkeley, B.A., 1999

Hastings College of the Law, University of California, J.D., 2004

Randall Aiman-Smith

Abogado (SBN 124599)

Aiman-Smith & Marcy. Oakland consumer fraud attorneys.

Educación y antecedentes

Fui afortunado. A pesar de no haber terminado la escuela secundaria o la universidad, pude -aunque con mucho trabajo- ser admitido y sobresalir en una de las mejores escuelas de derecho del país: La Facultad de Derecho de la Universidad de Berkeley. Mientras estuve allí, tuve el privilegio de ser editor de la California Law Review y miembro del Moot Court Board, asesorando en la redacción de escritos y en la defensa de apelaciones a otros estudiantes. Después de salir de la escuela de derecho, en mis primeros años de práctica, enseñé la escritura legal y la defensa de apelación en la Universidad de California, Hastings College of the Law. También, a lo largo de los años, he sido presentador en eventos de educación legal continua.

Experiencia legal

He sido abogado durante 35 años. He dedicado mi práctica exclusivamente a representar a empleados, consumidores e inversores en los tribunales estatales y federales de primera instancia y en los tribunales de apelación. Me gusta ir a los tribunales por mis clientes y he llevado muchos casos con jurado en los tribunales estatales y federales.

¿Ejemplos? En 2010, fui la abogada principal, junto con los otros abogados del bufete, en el caso Williams v. Union Pacific Railroad donde, después de cuatro años de preparación, el bufete obtuvo un veredicto del jurado de 1.670.000 dólares para una empleada afroamericana. En Rivero v. Surdyka, fui el abogado principal en el juicio y la apelación de un caso de derechos civiles que duró 15 años, incluyendo un juicio completo y tres apelaciones al Noveno Circuito, concluyendo finalmente con una sentencia para los demandantes de más de 2.300.000 dólares. Estos casos ilustran el lema del bufete: compromiso – resultados. Hay que comprometerse con un caso, a veces durante mucho tiempo, para obtener el resultado que el cliente merece.

No siempre ganamos en el juicio. Cuando eso ocurre, el compromiso significa llevar el caso al siguiente nivel y recurrirlo. En el caso Rivero, antes mencionado, eso fue lo que ocurrió: el tribunal desestimó el caso -habíamos perdido- pero apelamos y conseguimos una victoria para nuestros clientes que mantuvimos a través de dos apelaciones más. Desde entonces, el bufete ha conseguido muchas victorias en apelación que reivindican los derechos de los empleados y los consumidores.

A lo largo de los años he sido abogado de los demandantes en numerosos casos individuales y acciones colectivas. Puede sonar cursi, o difícil de creer, pero después de todo este tiempo, y después de todas las grandes experiencias que he tenido, mi parte favorita de ser abogado es cuando consigo dar un cheque a mi cliente.



Facultad de Derecho, Universidad de California, Berkeley, J.D., 1986