What is labor trafficking?
Labor trafficking is a form of modern slavery that exists throughout the United States and globally.
Labor traffickers – including recruiters, contractors, employers, and others – use violence, threats, lies, debt bondage, or other forms of coercion to force people to work against their will in many different industries.
Labor traffickers often make false promises of a high-paying job or exciting education or travel opportunities to lure people into horrendous working conditions. Yet, victims find that the reality of their jobs proves to be far different than promised and must frequently work long hours for little to no pay. Their employers exert such physical or psychological control – including physical abuse, debt bondage, confiscation of passports or money – that the victim believes they have no other choice but to continue working for that employer.
U.S. citizens, foreign nationals, women, men, children, and LGBTQ individuals can be victims of labor trafficking. Vulnerable populations are frequently targeted by traffickers. Immigration status, recruitment debt, isolation, poverty, and a lack of strong labor protections are just some of the vulnerabilities that can lead to labor trafficking.
Labor trafficking occurs in numerous industries in the U.S. and globally. In the United States, common types of labor trafficking include people forced to work in homes as domestic servants, farmworkers coerced through violence as they harvest crops, or factory workers held in inhumane conditions. Labor trafficking has also been reported in door-to-door sales crews, restaurants, construction work, carnivals, and even health and beauty services.
Globally, the International Labor Organization estimates that there are 14.2 million people trapped in forced labor in industries including agriculture, construction, domestic work and manufacturing.
The U.S. Department of Labor has identified 136 goods from 74 countries made by forced and child labor.
Since 2007, the National Human Trafficking Hotline, operated by Polaris, received reports of more than 5,400 labor trafficking cases inside the United States. Find more Hotline statistics here.
In a 2014 study from the Urban Institute of 122 closed cases of labor trafficking, Hidden in Plain Sight, seventy-one percent of the labor trafficking victims in the study entered the United States on lawful visas. These victims paid an average of $6,150 in recruitment fees for jobs in the United States.
In a study from San Diego State University, 31% of undocumented, spanish-speaking migrant workers interviewed in San Diego County had experienced labor trafficking.