There are 21 million people in forced labor. In developed economies such as the United States, Europe and Japan, we are seeing an increase in cases of trafficked immigrant teachers, nurses, construction and service workers — all who hold valid visas. Structural failures within our economic and employment systems increase immigrant workers’ vulnerability to severe forms of labor exploitation. Multinational corporations, employers, businesses, labor recruiters and others exploit these failures.
Today’s traffickers can also be licensed labor recruiters — those who solicit workers for jobs in other cities or countries — employers or even government officials. Trafficking for labor exploitation occurs within the legal framework of employment and business and through documented visa programs. Immigration officials may categorize immigrant workers who are trafficked as undocumented workers and deport them. Police and labor inspectors may view involuntary servitude or debt bondage in sectors such as agriculture, construction, manual labor and manufacturing as “mere” worker rights abuses, and so not justifying a remedy.
The creation of so-called guest worker programs and the rise of “labor recruiters” have exacerbated the vulnerabilities for workers inherent in labor migration. Many labor recruiters charge exorbitant fees for their services, forcing workers into debt bondage. Temporary labor migration or “guest worker” schemes promoted by governments to fill demand for cheap labor often create a legalized system for employers to exploit workers, deny them their rights and increase their vulnerability to trafficking and forced labor.
If we want to end trafficking, forced labor and other forms of modern slavery, we must address these broader underlying root causes, including failures to protect workers and enforce labor standards. The federal Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA), currently pending reauthorization but languishing in Congress. The TVPA provided critical resources and important tools. Its reauthorization is critical to maintaining U.S. leadership on this important issue.
Other steps to address forced labor through human trafficking include:
· Reforming labor laws to cover people now excluded from legal protection, such as domestic workers, and ensuring such laws are implemented and enforced.
· Providing safer migration processes for workers.
· Boosting scrutiny of imports and exports to ensure goods made by trafficked or forced labor are not allowed in the marketplace. U.S. law does not allow evidence collected by unions (and, hence, from the exploited worker themselves) or non-governmental sources to be the basis for restricting the importation of products made by trafficked or slave labor.
· Increasing pressure on companies to map their supply chains and make such information public.
· Promoting freedom of association and the right to organize — worker reporting and worker representation over unenforceable codes of conduct and third-party monitoring — as an effective way to monitor supply chains for trafficking and forced labor.
· Regulating labor recruiters and subcontractors more strictly, ensuring the elimination of fees for jobs and the imposition of strict liability for employers for the actions of their recruiters/subcontractors.
Learn more at Neha Misra’s Huffington Post article: Human Trafficking: A Big Business Built on Forced Labor.