The United States was built on the trafficking of humans. While this history is one our nation continues to grapple with, human trafficking remains a prolific and subversive part of our economy.
In 2010 President Obama declared January “National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month” with the intent to expand national awareness of the prevalent existence of this crime. Twelve years later, the Worker Justice Center of New York continues to acknowledge this month of awareness, along with the countless allies with whom we engage in the fight against human trafficking. As a legal services provider for underrepresented and marginalized workers in New York State, our staff have witnessed the overt and subtle ways in which workers are exploited by employers. While labor exploitation is the violation of a worker’s rights under labor law (such as being paid below minimum wage, working in a hazardous and unsafe environment, not being provided meal breaks, having an inconsistent pay schedule, etc.), human trafficking is the violation of a person’s human rights
Human trafficking can involve:
- The absence of consent
- Intimidation, deception, and disorientation
- Restriction of mobility the isolation of the housing or the worksite
- Debt bondage
- Confiscation of identity documents
- Withholding wages
- Physical and sexual abuse
Popular culture may lead one to believe all cases of trafficking involve imprisonment, chains, cages, weapons, and physical abuse. Such as the recent headlines out of Georgia about a ‘modern-day’ slavery ring’ of migrant workers in which “workers were also forced to work at gunpoint, dig onions with their bare hands, paid 20 cents for each bucket harvested, and many were sold or traded to other conspirators.” But the reality can often be more nuanced and subversive, for example, most labor trafficking cases include an element of debt bondage that does not include physical violence or restraint. Across most industries, which are very dependent on cheap labor and consequently where labor trafficking cases have been found by our office are: agriculture, hotels, restaurants, state fairs, arts & music, domestic work, and sex work.
While only a couple of cases per year receive national coverage by the media, there have been 2,149 confirmed cases from 2007-2021 in New York State (data from the New York Interagency Task Force on Human Trafficking)
What can you do to help spread awareness of trafficking and join the fight against it?
- Learn about the industries which are most susceptible to trafficking and assess how you interact with these industries
- Support organizations like WJCNY who identify and investigate cases of trafficking. Labor trafficking is one of the most difficult crimes to prosecute and is severely underfunded by the government and charitable institutions.
- Share your knowledge with your friends and family and help raise awareness
WJCNY's human trafficking program focuses on investigating and interrupting human trafficking schemes, while working to transform the culture of the anti-trafficking field by leading victim-centered training programs for service providers and law enforcement. Our human trafficking specialists work closely with law enforcement and our legal team to hold perpetrators accountable and with our survivor services team to support trafficking survivors on their path to self-determination. For more information about our program, or to schedule a training with one of our specialists, contact Human Trafficking Program Director, Renán Salgado at [email protected]