September, 2021 Monthly Reflection

Preying on the Vulnerable……Let Us Pray and Advocate

by Sally Duffy, SC

“Farmworkers picking & bagging lettuce” by yaxchibonam is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Labor trafficking advocacy can often get overshadowed by sex trafficking in discussions with state and federal legislators. This is not an either/or but rather a both/and when meeting with legislators. The U.S. National Human Trafficking Hotline learned about 1,236 situations of labor trafficking in 2019.

About six years ago there was a labor trafficking indictment against four men connected with labor trafficking of minors at an egg farm in Marion, Ohio. The labor trafficking scheme forced eight Guatemalan minors to work at egg farms in central Ohio. Haba Corporate Services contracted to provide labor to Trillium Farms, knowing that the workers were unlawfully present in the United States. The unaccompanied minors had been coerced or threatened to enter the United States and then housed in an isolated trailer park in Marion, Ohio. In 2013 and 2014, Trillim Farms paid the defendant’s company approximately $6 million for its labor services.

Immigration laws were violated and contributed to the exploitation of vulnerable children who lacked immigration status. “The four defendants coerced and assisted individuals to enter the United States illegally, many of them children, forcing them to live in deplorable conditions and work for little to no wages,” said Special Agent in Charge Stephen D. Anthony of the FBI’s Cleveland Division in a Department of Justice, U.S. Attorney’s Office, Northern District of Ohio September 18, 2018 Press Release. “These reprehensible actions are unacceptable and rest assured the FBI will continue to work with our partners to bring to justice those who engage in human trafficking.” Comprehensive immigration reform would also alleviate the vulnerability of minors and adults.[i]

There is a difference between human smuggling and human trafficking that often needs to be differentiated. Polaris Project provided the following clarification in a blog post on May 25, 2021[ii].

Human smuggling is the business of transporting people illegally across an international border, in this case into the United States. Smuggling does not involve coercion. The people the smugglers bring from one place to another place – illegally – generally have chosen to make the trip themselves for any number of reasons. Some are fleeing violence or poverty. Most, and are in fact, paying someone to help them make the journey.

Human trafficking, by contrast, is involuntary and is integral to its very definition. Traffickers use force, fraud or coercion to get someone to sell sex or work in exploitative conditions.”

Another important issue related to labor trafficking is that the United States never totally abolished slavery. The 13thAmendment has an “Exception Clause”, it remains possible for slavery to be used as a method of punishment, allowing the government to legally subject people incarcerated across the United States to forced labor. Just because something is legal, it does not mean it is just. Numerous states have introduced legislation to either remove the punishment clause from their state constitutions or add language to explicitly outlaw slavery or involuntary servitude as punishment for a crime. Utah, Nebraska and Colorado voters have already voted to remove the “exception clause” language from their state constitutions that allow for slavery or involuntary servitude through the use of forced prison labor.

Unfortunately, this exception clause has been used to force labor of prisoners and persons in detention centers. The labor conditions are not always safe and the wages often do not meet the minimum wage standards and on average are around one dollar/hour.

You can join Polaris Project in their campaigns demanding all states and the federal government to explicitly outlaw slavery and involuntary servitude as punishment for a crime in the U.S. and state constitutions. “Taking forced prison labor out of the U.S. Constitution doesn’t mean abolishing prison labor altogether. Many incarcerated people want the opportunity to earn money, learn new skills, and contribute to the economy. But the current system of forcing people to work, for little or no pay, often in dangerous or unhealthy conditions, does not make our streets safer. It does, however, create a profit motive for sending people to prison, which has in turn led to the devastating mass incarceration of Black Americans.”[iii]

Please consider advocating to put an end to the “Exception Clause” in the United States. You can take action immediately.

Another advocacy issue is Raising Labor Standards by working to get a National Domestic Workers Bill of Rights passed in order to ensure that the people who clean our homes and care for our loved ones receive the fair wages, benefits, and protections all workers deserve. A Domestic Bill of Rights has been passed in 11 states (most recently Virginia) and 2 cities.

There are efforts to introduce a bill at the national level that would create a standard level of protection and dignity for domestic workers. The bill will be co-sponsored by Senators Kristen Gillibrand and Ben Ray Lujan and Representative Pramila Jayapal.[iv]

Some of the protections in the bill include:

  • Paid sick leave to take care of one’s self or their families
  • Extend civil rights protections, including against workplace harassment, to domestic workers.
  • Afford domestic workers the right to meal and rest breaks.
  • Establish written agreements to ensure clarity on roles and responsibilities.
  • Protect against losing pay due to last-minute cancellations.

You can participate in this advocacy immediately through this link.

Additional legislation that was passed in California is The Fraudulent Overseas Recruitment and Trafficking Elimination (FORTE), Act H.R. 3344 (Royce (R) to increase access to information for workers lawfully entering the United States, prohibit workers from paying fees to foreign labor recruiters, require companies to utilize registered foreign labor recruiters to prevent cases of exploitation and modern-day slavery in the United States.

“Every year traffickers use trains, buses, planes and ships to transport thousands of victims, hiding them in plain sight while traveling to destinations around the world. As the eyes and ears in airports and global transportation systems, airport employees are uniquely positioned to help combat the issue of human trafficking. The Sacramento County Department of Airports (SCDA) partnered with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to develop a new Human Trafficking Awareness and Reporting training program. The Blue Lightning Initiative (BLI) is designed to provide airport employees with the tools needed to take advantage of their unique position and ability to identify potential human trafficking victims and notify federal authorities.

Passed and signed in 2018, it requires transit agencies like bus and light rail stations to provide human trafficking training to employees who may interact with traffickers and/or their victims.”[v]

Thank you to Samantha Mott of Saccounty News for highlighting this human trafficking training on March 10, 2021. Samantha Mott is the Communications and Media Officer for the Department of Health Services in Sacramento County, California.

The Top Three Identified Types of Labor Trafficking in the United States in 2019 by the Polaris Project.[vi] Please remember that this information is under-reported.

  • Domestic Work: 218
  • Agriculture and Animal Husbandry: 108
  • Traveling Sales Crews: 107







Sally Duffy, SC, is a member of The Alliance Board of Directors.

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