Chicago Focuses on Labor Trafficking

But for a determined — and apparently worried — boss who pressed an employee for details on injuries he and his roommate had suffered, Cook County probably would not have recently charged its first labor trafficking case.

The past decade has seen a dramatic shift in both law enforcement and the public’s understanding of sex trafficking, with more media attention and criminal cases brought against pimps who drive the trade, leading to significant sentences at the state and federal levels.

Locally, social service providers and law enforcement are pushing for the same spotlight to be turned on labor trafficking. A Cook County trafficking task force, which includes federal authorities, has been expanded to include a labor group that meets separately to talk about how to combat the problem. Prosecutors have been studying other jurisdictions to learn how to best build cases.

“The emotive content of sex trafficking, and especially child sex trafficking, is what brings people in. … It is what brings policymakers to update the laws,” said Luis CdeBaca, the State Department’s ambassador-at-large in its effort to combat human trafficking. “It’s a normal process to start to work with child sex trafficking. And then with time and expertise, you start to gain the understanding of the truth of compelled service. … Any time you have a vulnerable and excluded population and greed, you could end up having slavery.”

An anti-trafficking program at the Chicago-based Heartland Alliance — which works with foreign-born victims across the Midwest — has tracked labor trafficking cases in restaurants and factories, as well as children forced into domestic service even as they were attending school. Miguel Keberlein Gutierrez, director of the Illinois Migrant Legal Assistance Project, said manipulation can be subtle — and getting victims to come forward is a challenge.

“It’s simple manipulation that puts people in a situation where they feel shame,” he said. “The thing with labor trafficking that is a little more problematic for people to understand (is), how can someone make you work where you don’t want to work?”

Learn more at Annie Sweeney’s Chicago Tribune article: Focus on human trafficking shifts to labor.


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