Human trafficking’s prevalence is often invisible and it can be difficult to realize how one’s own personal consumer choices can enable this enormous issue to keep growing. Human trafficking is not limited to just sex trafficking; it encompasses anything related to the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of a person for the purpose of exploitation, which includes sexual exploitation, forced labor, slavery or similar practices. This extends to labor trafficking, where people are held in a kind of indentured servitude to their employers. Employers will sometimes hold their employees’ passports or social security cards, require them to pay a large percentage of their paycheck back to fulfill their “debt” for being hired and/or brought to the United States, or use other forms of coercion to essentially hold their workers hostage. Because many of these jobs are seemingly stable and the employers are seemingly legitimate, workers’ plights aren’t as easily noticed. Here are ten industries where labor trafficking is particularly prevalent:
1. Agriculture, Animal Husbandry, and Fishing
Even if it’s been grown or farmed in the United States, it is very possible that the food that you eat and the tobacco you smoke have been harvested by exploited workers. Common examples include workers who have been promised an hourly rate but are instead paid on a piece-rate basis or guest workers from other countries who end up indebted to their sponsors to the tune of thousands of dollars. As with other industries on this list, workers are often housed together in large numbers in small spaces, forced to share beds and minimal floor space. Because of the convoluted chain of middlemen between growers and buyers, transparency can be difficult.
2. Domestic Service
Alex Tizon’s viral article in The Atlantic was shocking in its depiction of his family’s housekeeper and nanny, who he later realized was a slave. While not all domestic servitude is as obvious an example of slavery as Tizon’s story, many domestic workers, especially those who live in their employers’ homes, are forced to work long hours for little to no pay. Because many of these workers are immigrants, they may feel like they have little to no choice but to stay.
Construction exploitation often comes in the form of classifying workers as independent contractors and thus denying them benefits and living wages, not to mention worker protections. Similarly to domestic service workers, many construction workers are immigrants and may feel like they have no other options.
4. Manufacturing and Factory Work
While it is common to be wary of the “Made in China” labels on many of our household goods and clothing, it’s less common to know that exploitation happens along many parts of the production chain. The cloth in your American-made garments may come from factories overseas and the metals in your electronics may have been excavated by exploited miners. Doing your research and shopping fair trade can drastically reduce your impact.
The association between hotels and human trafficking is often of women being trafficked out of rooms for sex, but there is a significant likelihood that the hotel’s employees, be it the housekeepers, front desk attendants, or bellboys, are being trafficked for their labor. As with many of the industries on this list, workers are often immigrants with an H-2B visa, which restricts their ability to leave their situation and work for another employer.
6. Health and Beauty Salons
A 2015 New York Times article highlighting the abuses manicurists encounter in nail salons was shared widely when it was revealed how many women are subject to wage theft and abuse from their employers. Since the majority are immigrants, they are often hindered by language barriers between them and their customers, preventing them from reaching out for help.
The food service industry is rife with worker exploitation, especially as so many of the positions, such as chefs, dishwashers, and bussers, are largely out of the customer’s sight. In an industry that can often rely heavily on tips and inconsistent hours, workers can be particularly vulnerable to grueling conditions and garnished wages.
8. Traveling Sales Crews
Door-to-door salespersons are often coerced into selling fraudulent products that customers rarely, if ever, receive and they themselves are not fully compensated. Because the work moves from city to city, it’s difficult to pin down the companies, which are constantly changing their names and operating locations.
Landscaping, with its taxing work and heavy immigrant employment, is the most commonly reported type of labor trafficking. The vast majority of workers are men and are restricted by their H-2B visas in their ability to find work elsewhere. The work can be back-breaking and the pay can be either minimal or non-existent.
Carnivals, with their fleeting lifespan and merry chaos, can be easy places to hide labor trafficking. Booth operators, food sellers, and workers who put up and take down the infrastructure can potentially be exploited in the same manner as many of the industries above, with wage theft, arduous hours, and restricted access to benefits and protections.
Being conscious of one’s consumer decisions and making an effort to change them is the first step you can make toward combating human trafficking. To learn about the signs of human trafficking and what to do if you think you spot it, please refer to our reference here.
The information in this article was gathered primarily from the Polaris, a non-profit dedicated to fighting human trafficking.