by David Phinney
Tuesday June 6th 2023



Combating Trafficking for Forced Labor Purposes
This year we noted several disturbing global trends which speak directly to the plight of labor trafficking victims. The first is the use of debt as a tool of coercion. In labor as well as sexual exploitation, illegal or illegitimate debt is increasingly used to keep people in servitude. This debt is employed by traffickers as an instrument of coercion, especially among migrant laborers. Migrant laborers from developing countries are often legally contracted by labor agencies or respond to ads to perform low-skilled work in developed countries. For this “privilege” they are required to make a steep payment up front for the services of the labor agency arranging the job or as a finder’s fee that goes straight to the future employer. What follows is a terrifying set of circumstances in which unfair debt captures an indebted worker.
Debt bondage is criminalized under U.S. law and included as a form of exploitation related to trafficking in the United Nations Protocol To Prevent, Suppress, and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children (UN TIP Protocol). As noted in our annual report, major source countries must do a better job of protecting their citizens against this exploitation. They can do so by limiting pre-departure fees to reasonable levels and negotiating formal labor agreements with destination countries to secure their citizen’s rights while working abroad. Destination countries should be active in making foreign workers aware of their rights, in assisting workers to exercise those rights, and in criminally prosecuting traffickers.
Confiscation of travel documents including passports, identification and airline tickets is a form of coercion used to gain and exercise control over a victim. Without these documents, foreign workers are trapped, vulnerable to arrest, punishment, and deportation. U.S. federal law makes it illegal to seize documents in order to force others to work and foreign governments are encouraged to criminalize this form of coercion as well. Prosecution is an important prong in our assessment of a country’s anti-trafficking efforts. The vehicle for successful prosecution is through strong national anti-trafficking laws that cover both sex and labor trafficking.


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