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What is Labor Trafficking?


January 31, 2024 | When you think of human trafficking, it’s common to think of sex trafficking first. But did you know that labor trafficking is more common and that immigrants are particularly vulnerable?

The International Institute of Minnesota is dedicated to assisting foreign-born youth and adult survivors of human trafficking so they can rebuild their lives in Minnesota. We do this by ensuring survivors receive the care and resources needed to rebuild their lives.

Learn more about our work with trafficking survivors — and how you can help — in this interview with Andrea Kittleson, program manager of the Institute’s Anti-Human Trafficking and Youth Support Services.

What is Labor Trafficking?

Story by USCRI, the International Institute of Minnesota’s national affiliate

Human trafficking is the buying or selling of people for labor or sex. Nearly all trafficking stems from some sort of vulnerability. Human traffickers often target disadvantaged individuals with the fewest legal and social protections, exploiting their economic hardships, lack of education, or immigration status. The lack of legal status of many migrants leaves them vulnerable both in transit and after arrival in their destination country. Victims and survivors can be subjected to physical and psychological abuse, with their basic human rights systematically violated. Despite ongoing efforts, human trafficking remains a pressing challenge.

Labor Trafficking

Labor trafficking is the exploitation of an individual for financial gain. Traffickers treat humans like commodities, profit from the mistreatment of their workforce, and use force, fraud, or coercion to push people to provide labor or services against their will and make it difficult or impossible to leave. Individuals in labor trafficking are often not free to make their own life choices, such as where to work, when to take time off, where to live, or how to control their own finances.

Definition of Labor Trafficking

According to the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 (TVPA), as amended 22 U.S.C. § 7102, the first comprehensive federal law to address human trafficking, labor trafficking is defined as:

  •  The recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labor or services, through the use of force, fraud or coercion, for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery.

Labor Trafficking Signs

Labor trafficking is more common than sex trafficking. However, because it is an underreported crime, the true extent is not known. Labor trafficking can occur in various industries, such as manufacturing, seafood, poultry, agriculture, healthcare, and construction. Identifying red flags of labor trafficking is crucial for identifying potential trafficking victims. Here are some common signs:

  1. Restricted movement: Victims may have limited freedom of movement and may be under constant supervision. This includes not being allowed to leave the workplace or living quarters without permission.
  2. Isolation: Traffickers often isolate victims from the public, friends and family. Limited contact with others and restrictions on communication may be signs of labor trafficking.
  3. Document confiscation: Traffickers may confiscate identification documents, passports or work permits to control and restrict the movement of victims.
  4. Substandard living conditions: Victims may be forced to live in overcrowded and unsanitary conditions, sometimes in the workplace, with little or no access to basic amenities.
  5. Excessive working hours: Long and irregular working hours, often well beyond legal limits, may indicate exploitation. This may be coupled with inadequate breaks or rest periods.
  6. Physical abuse: Signs of physical abuse, such as bruises, cuts or other injuries, may be evident on victims. Fearful or submissive behavior may also be observed.
  7. Withheld wages: Victims may not receive fair wages or may have their earnings withheld, creating dependency and further trapping them in their situation.
  8. Unrealistic job offers: Promises of high-paying jobs with excellent working conditions that seem too good to be true can be indicative of fraudulent recruitment practices.
  9. Lack of personal belongings: Victims may have few personal belongings or be provided with insufficient clothing, indicating a lack of personal autonomy.
  10. Fear and mistrust: Victims may exhibit signs of fear, anxiety or a reluctance to speak openly. They may also be afraid of law enforcement or authorities.

It is important to approach any potential trafficking victims with sensitivity and discretion. If you suspect someone is in a potential trafficking situation, contact a relevant anti-trafficking organization, such as the National Human Trafficking Hotline: 1-888-373-7888, via text at 2333733, or the International Institute of Minnesota’s anti-trafficking team at (651) 377-8602. Reporting your suspicions to the appropriate authorities can help ensure a proper investigation and the safety of the victim.

Your Support is Essential

Invest in the future of a foreign-born human trafficking survivor. Your tax-deductible gift supports our work, helping survivors secure safe housing, access primary and mental health care, receive job training and more.

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