Human Trafficking 2

Labor Trafficking

By Kersley Fitzgerald

Human Trafficking: The Series

Statistics and Definitions
Labor Trafficking
Sex Trafficking
Selling Eve
Freedom for the Captives
The Church's Response
The Girls

Note: This series is on human trafficking, including sex trafficking. Terms are plain, although situations are not explicit. Still, reader discretion is advised.

Labor trafficking is using force, fraud, deception, or coercion to benefit from another's labor. It's slavery. And there are more people caught in labor trafficking today than there were slaves in the pre-Civil War era.

What's going on?

According to the Department of Health and Human Services, there are three types of labor trafficking:

Bonded labor or debt bondage: Little known, but widely used, this is when a person's labor is demanded to repay a debt — real or imagined. Terms are not defined; pay is disproportionate to both the labor and the debt.

Forced labor: This is what we think of when we think of slavery. Someone is held against their will and forced to work. Traffickers use violence, manipulation, and other forms of punishment for non-compliance. Labor can include sweatshops, agricultural help, and begging.

Child labor: Kind of a different category, the main difference is that those under 18 are not legally allowed to agree to many of the terms that would be considered legitimate, if unfair, labor. They are not legally allowed to agree to become a prostitute, for instance.

Our Backyard

Ricardo Veisaga was a victim of labor trafficking. He needed money. He didn't understand much English. He read in a Spanish newspaper there was an employment agency hiring people to work in Chinese restaurants for room, board, and $1000 a month.

He needed the money, so he showed up. Because his visa was set to expire, he was given a fake one. Instead of steady work, he got a trip in a van to another town, a locked room, and 12-hour shifts in several different Chinese restaurants for no pay. If he resisted, he was beaten. If he got injured, he was told to suck it up.

If you're like me, you probably thought, Spanish name. Guy was an illegal immigrant from Mexico, anyway. He shouldn't even be here. Nope. Spanish name, but not from Mexico — he's from Argentina. He was trying to earn money because after the devastating loss of his daughter, he gave all his assets to his ex-wife and son. All he wanted was a ticket for Barcelona, but he didn't have the cash. He did not cross the border illegally. He was not a dirt farmer from some war-torn Central American country.* He is a former seminarian with a masters in political science. Read more here. In general, more men than women are trafficked into modern-day labor slavery. "In 2004, the owner of six Chinese restaurants in upstate New York was arrested after authorities found that 75 of his workers, all of whom were undocumented immigrants, were grossly underpaid and threatened." (1) Often, it starts with an employment agency. Ads go out, promising work. When the person shows up, they're told they must travel out of state in a bus or van. Their IDs are taken. They're housed in a locked room, and what little pay they earn is taken for "expenses."

In 2010, the FBI discovered six labor recruiters had lured 400 farm workers from Thailand to Hawaii. The employment agency had urged the men to mortgage their homes and farms for the $9000-$21,000 job finder's fee. When the workers arrived, their passports were taken, and they were forced to work on farms on Oahu, Kauai, Maui, and the Big Island. Some were also sent to Florida, Ohio, and Kentucky. If their employer bothered to get them work visas, the visas were short-term only. So, they were stuck on a farm in a country where they didn't speak the language with no documentation and no money. In June of 2011, the governor of Hawaii signed in a law increasing the penalties for sex and labor trafficking.

More than 70,000 workers from the worlds' poorest countries support US military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Many are hired by subcontractors that are not regulated by the US government. They are fed poor food, paid poor wages, and subjected to sexual abuse. (2)

Other types of labor that use trafficked persons: begging, door-to-door sales, hotel housekeeping (especially in cities hosting a big event), domestic help.

But that's Chinese restaurants and US military bases and Hawaiian farms. Who of us has a live-in housekeeper? It still feels a little dissociated from everyday life. Here's something closer to home.

The One You Don't Want to Know About

Right now, there are men in trucks driving around the African country of Mali, looking for children who are alone. The men lure the children into their trucks, perhaps promising them food or schooling. Instead, they're driven to Cote d'Ivoire and sold to chocolate farmers. Most cocoa comes from West Africa — 40% from Cote d'Ivoire alone. And most chocolate farmers do not get a fair price for their product. The candy companies are too big, and we chocoholics demand too much. The only economically viable way to sell cocoa to big companies is to use slave labor, including children, to chop brush with machetes and work with toxic pesticides. Our addiction to cheap chocolate and our reluctance to stick with Fair Trade incites them to enslave children.

About ten years ago, major chocolate producers were convinced to agree to change their business practices to gradually eliminate child labor and slave labor in their cocoa procurement process. Some have made inroads. Some now have Fair Trade chocolate available. But the big companies, including Hersey, Mars, Nestle, Dove, etc., still do not have procedures in place to trace their supply chains and ensure their cocoa was not picked by unaccompanied minors or unpaid workers in West Africa.

Company policy runs the gamut. After Hershey shareholders passed a resolution requesting Hershey disclose its complete supply line chain, Hershey Trust, which owns a majority share of the company, refused. Cadbury, on the other hand, has converted its top selling chocolate bar in the UK to Fair Trade. According to sustainalytics, a company that tracks the sustainable practices of business, Mars is doing better, as well, although none of the big chocolate companies have sufficient disclosure policies. Unfortunately, Hershey controls Cadbury's production in the US, so you can't guarantee Cadbury's products here.

There is a really easy way for us to help fight labor trafficking. Buy fair trade chocolate. Fair trade prohibits forced labor, child labor, and discrimination. It guarantees a fair price for the originating farmers. An item with a fair trade label means 100% of the primary ingredient must be certified. And I'm not saying this just because it's less tainted by guilt, but it really does taste so much better!

* Should that matter?


Next: Sex Trafficking:The Not-So-Victimless Victimless Crime

Links to check out:
Polaris Project
Fair Trade Federation
Oasis USA
DOD list of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor

What to do if you suspect someone is being trafficked:

If the situation is urgent, call 911.
If there is no immediate threat, call the non-emergency number, often 311.
Call your local anti-human trafficking organization.
Call the national hotline—1-888-3737-888.
(Hotlines will not necessarily be able to provide emergency assistance, but they will track activity to better aid the FBI and other law enforcement in determining where and how to act.)

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Published 7-20-11