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What Is Human Trafficking?

Labor trafficking in manufacturing has been known to occur in the garment industry and in food processing plants in the United States. 

Victims, both men and women, have been forced to work 10-12 hour days, 6-7 days per week with little or no break time

People may be trafficked into garment industry jobs such as sewing, assembling, pressing, or packing apparel. Others may be forced to work in food processing operations that include slaughtering, preserving, canning and packing goods for distribution. 

Immigrant workers, both documented and undocumented, are often recruited into these industries. Some documented immigrants include H-2B visa holders who arrive in the U.S. to perform non-agricultural labor or temporary services.

Scroll down to read more in the overview below.

When does it become trafficking?

Factory/production work becomes 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 to work. Common elements of force, fraud, or coercion in manufacturing trafficking situations include:

Force: Physical confinement in locked factories or plants; placement in specific production line tasks that the worker cannot abandon; physical or sexual abuse; constant surveillance; lack of medical treatment for work related injury or illness.

Fraud: Misrepresentation of the work, working conditions, wages, and immigration benefits of the job; payment schemes that compensate worker by units of production rather than hourly wage and thus grossly underpay workers; manufacturing plants facing complaints may close down and relocate elsewhere without paying workers for their labor; altered or fake contracts; visa fraud.

Coercion: Threats of deportation; threats of dismissal if workers attempt to unionize or address working conditions (wages and hour violations, workplace safety, discrimination/harassment); threats of harm to family, friends or coworkers; confiscation of passports and visas; debt manipulation.


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 victim vulnerabilities within the manufacturing industry. Some examples of these include (and are not limited by):

Immigration Status: Traffickers often use threats of deportation and document confiscation to maintain control over foreign national workers in the production industry. H-2B workers are particularly vulnerable to trafficking because their legal status in the United States is tied to their employment and because they often have extended families in their home countries who depend on their wages. Traffickers impose hefty debts to immigrant workers for job recruitment fees, transportation costs and visa processing. Additionally, traffickers prey on immigrant workers’ unfamiliarity with the language, laws and customs of the U.S. to further manipulate or exploit them.


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 manufacturing industry include (and are not limited to):

Low Profit Margins: Domestic manufacturing is driven by competition from offshore industries where labor is outsourced, particularly in garment and apparel manufacturing. As a result, factories are particularly vulnerable to trafficking when traffickers, seeking to meet the demand for cheap labor, are able to coerce victims into working in high production, low profit operations for little to no pay.

Tiered Production System: Food and garment production are decentralized, whereby retailers/buyers purchase goods from manufacturing companies that in turn employ various subcontractors to prepare or produce those goods. Subcontractors who arrange the actual labor are responsible for paying and supervising workers, but may fall outside the scope of retailer-manufacturer agreements governing overtime, workplace safety, discrimination/harassment, and the right to organize and bargain collectively. This structure creates an unregulated work environment whereby trafficking victims are often exploited by their subcontracting supervisors or employers. 

Close to Slavery

Close to Slavery: Guestworker Programs in the United States

Southern Poverty Law Center

An analsyis of the guestworker visa system in the United States with overviews of various categories and examples abusive trends reported by guestworkers.

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