Beyond The Furrows: How Labor Trafficking Affects Farmworkers And What’s Being Done Locally

August 12, 2021

During the COVID-19 pandemic, essential workers helped the rest of us keep some semblance of order during the initial wave of uncertainty.

And farmworkers are included in that workforce; they’re how we get our food on the table.

So when the pandemic hit, Andrea Rojas saw an increase in calls from agricultural workers to the National Human Trafficking Hotline. She knew that increase made sense, because calls from other industries like hospitality and restaurants went down, while there was sustained demand for farmworkers.

“That was one of the few industries that remained working and operational during the pandemic, where most of the other sectors were completely shut down,” Rojas said.

Rojas is the strategic initiative director for labor trafficking at Polaris, which is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to combat sex and labor trafficking. Polaris also runs the National Human Trafficking Hotline.

“And it’s very telling about some of the failures in the system to protect these workers, because in order for a foreign national to connect with a national resource — with a National Human Trafficking Hotline — requires multiple steps in order to make that call,” Rojas said.

According to hotline data provided by Polaris to KCBX, agricultural labor trafficking victims were found to have most commonly dealt with verbal abuse, overworking, wage theft, and threats to be reported to immigration — whether they’re undocumented workers or not.

Rojas said the historical basis for labor trafficking in agriculture is twofold: its historical reliance on slavery and its current reliance on migrant workers.

Read the full story by Francisco Matinez on KCBX FM.