Labor Trafficking

What is Forced Labor, also known as Labor Trafficking?

According to the U.S. State Department (www.state.gov/g/tip) most instances of forced labor occur as unscrupulous 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 the practice. Immigrants are particularly vulnerable, but individuals are also often forced into labor in their own countries.

Bonded Labor

One form of force or coercion is the use of a bond, or debt, to keep a person in subjugation. This is referred to in law and policy as “bonded labor” or “debt bondage.” It is criminalized under U.S. law and included as a form of exploitation related to trafficking in the United Nations protocol on trafficking in persons. Many workers around the world fall victim to debt bondage when they assume an initial debt as part of the terms of employment, or inherent debt in more traditional systems of bonded labor. In South Asia, this phenomenon exists in huge numbers as traditional bonded labor in which people are enslaved from generation to generation.

Involuntary Servitude

People become trapped in involuntary servitude when they believe an attempted escape from their conditions would result in serious physical harm or the use of legal coercion, such as the threat of deportation. Victims are often economic migrants and low-skilled laborers who are trafficked from less developed communities to more prosperous and developed places. Many victims experience physical and verbal abuse, breach of an employment contract, and may perceive themselves to be in captivity—and too often they are.

Domestic Servitude

Domestic workers may be trapped in servitude through the use of force or coercion, such as physical (including sexual) or emotional abuse. Children are particularly vulnerable to domestic servitude which occurs in private homes, and is often unregulated by public authorities. For example, there is great demand in some wealthier countries of Asia and the Persian Gulf for domestic servants who sometimes fall victim to conditions of involuntary servitude.

Identifying Victims of Labor Trafficking

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (www.acf.hhs.gov/trafficking), victims of labor trafficking are not a homogeneous group of people. Victims are young children, teenagers, men and women. Some of them enter the country legally on worker visas for domestic, “entertainment,” computer and agricultural work, while others enter illegally. Some work in legal occupations such as domestic, factory or construction work, while others toil in illegal industries such as the drug and arms trade or panhandling. Although there is no single way to identify victims of labor trafficking, some common patterns include:

  • Victims are often kept isolated to prevent them from getting help. Their activities are restricted and are typically watched, escorted or guarded by associates of traffickers. Traffickers may “coach” them to answer questions with a cover story about being a student or tourist.
  • Victims may be blackmailed by traffickers using the victims’ status as an undocumented alien or their participation in an “illegal” industry. By threatening to report them to law enforcement or immigration officials, traffickers keep victims compliant.
  • People who are trafficked often come from unstable and economically devastated places as traffickers frequently identify vulnerable populations characterized by oppression, high rates of illiteracy, little social mobility and few economic opportunities.
  • Women and children are overwhelmingly trafficked in labor arenas because of their relative lack of power, social marginalization, and their overall status as compared to men.

Assistance for Victims of Labor Trafficking

According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, when victims of trafficking are identified, the U.S. government can help them stabilize their immigration status, and obtain support and assistance in rebuilding their lives in the United States through various programs. By certifying victims of trafficking, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) enables trafficking victims who are non-U.S. citizens to receive federally funded benefits and services to the same extent as a refugee. Victims of trafficking who are U.S. citizens do not need to be certified to receive benefits. As U.S. citizens, they may already be eligible for many benefits. As a result of the certification or eligibility letters issued by HHS, victims can access benefits and services including food, health care and employment assistance. Certified victims of trafficking can obtain access to services that provide English language instruction and skills training for job placement. Since many victims are reluctant to come forward for fear of being deported, one of HHS’ most important roles is to connect victims with non-profit organizations prepared to assist them and address their specific needs. These organizations can provide counseling, case management and benefit coordination. If you think you have come in contact with a victim of human trafficking, call the Trafficking Information and Referral Hotline at 1.888.3737.888. This hotline will help you determine if you have encountered victims of human trafficking, will identify local resources available in your community to help victims, and will help you coordinate with local social service organizations to help protect and serve victims so they can begin the process of restoring their lives. For more information on human trafficking visit www.acf.hhs.gov/trafficking or www.state.gov/g/tip.

Resources

"Hidden Slaves: Forced Labor in the United States"- This article from the Cornell University Industrial and Labor Relations School examines the nature and scope of forced labor in the United States from 1998 to 2003.

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U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Labor Trafficking Factsheet148.4 KB
U.S. Department of Labor 2009 Report - List of Products via child or forced labor.pdf4.38 MB

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