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Agriculture & Farms

What Is Human Trafficking?

Labor Trafficking in AgricultureVictims of labor trafficking have been found among the nation’s migrant and seasonal farmworkers, including men, women, families, or children as young as 5 or 6 years old who harvest crops and raise animals in fields, packing plants, orchards, and nurseries.

Victims of this form of trafficking include U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents, undocumented immigrants, and foreign nationals with temporary H-2A work visas.

Agricultural work is often isolated and transient, and income can be irregular. Workers often see peaks and lulls in employment due to changing harvest seasons, and may travel across the country to find work. 

Unscrupulous crewleaders exploit these conditions of vulnerability, adding debt, violence, and threats to hold farmworkers in conditions of servitude.

Scroll down to read more in the overview below.

When does it become trafficking?

Farmworkers frequently face abusive and exploitative treatment, but not all labor exploitation constitutes human trafficking. Agricultural situations become trafficking when the employer uses force, fraud, or coercion to maintain control over the worker and to cause the worker to believe that he or she has no other choice but to continue with the work. Common elements force, fraud or coercion in agricultural work include:

Force: Isolation in migrant camps and rural areas; control over transportation’ restricted communication with outsiders; physical or sexual abuse; employer disregard of health related injury or illness; no protections against dehydration or overexposure.

Fraud: False promises about the job; altered contracts and pay-statements; exorbitant recruitment fees for jobs that pay low wages.

Coercion: Threats of deportation; threats of harm to the victim or the victim’s family; document confiscation; manipulation of debt workers took on to obtain the job; pattern of verbal or psychological abuse design to ellicit cooperation; debt bondage through high fees for rent, food, tools, transportation and other expenses.


Victim Vulnerabilities

Human trafficking spans all victim demographics and the vulnerabilities traffickers exploit are unique and specific to each victim (e.g. a developmental disorder, past child abuse, cultural beliefs). However, the NHTRC sees recurring vulnerabilities within the agriculture industry. Some examples of these include (and are not limited by):

Immigration Status: Agricultural work is frequently completed by foreign national workers. These workers are recruited overseas to come to the United States on temporary work visas to work for specific farms or contractors. These victims often face threats workers with arrest and deportation, even workers who have the legal right to work in the U.S. Farmworkers holding H-2A temporary work visas are prohibited from working for an employer other than the one who requested their visa, leaving the worker vulnerable to abuse by an employer, crewleader, or recruitment agency.


Industry Vulnerabilities

Traffickers conduct their trafficking operations in a wide range of industries, utilizing both legitimate and illegitimate venues and means of operation. Various industries are faced with challenges or weakness that can be used by traffickers as enabling factors for human trafficking. Examples of recurring vulnerabilities within the agriculture industry include (and are not limited to):

Seasonal/Temporary Work: Agricultural work is dependent upon the harvesting seasons of crops, necessitating a large amount of work to be completed within a very short window of time. This temporary nature of agricultural employment, often leads employers to rely upon employees on temporary work visas. This temporary workflow also leads workers to frequently migrate to follow the crops seasons. As a result, workers often do not spend enough time in each community to understand local support networks, laws or services.

Isolation: Farm work often occurs in rural, sparsely populated areas. Migrant farmworkers traditionally live in housing provided by their employer, reducing the likelihood of identification by community members. Crewleaders or employers who wish to exert control over farmworkers may keep them confined to the property, sometimes with the use of locks, armed guards or dogs. Farmworkers who travel with their crewleader along the migrant stream to find work face further barriers to obtaining assistance, due to constant unfamiliarity with new surroundings.

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