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H.E.A.T. Watch – Stop Human Exploitation and Trafficking

National Human Trafficking Hotline: 1(888) 373-7888
Alameda County H.E.A.T. Watch Tip Line: 1(510) 208-4959
Office of the District Attorney, Alameda County
Nancy E. O'Malley, District Attorney

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Labor Trafficking

Labor Trafficking occurs when individuals perform labor or services through the use of force, fraud, or coercion. Labor trafficking includes situations of debt bondage, forced labor, and involuntary child labor (National Human Trafficking Resource Center, 2016)

How this Occurs

Exploiters offer false promises of well-paying jobs in big cities and/or foreign countries. When the victim arrives, they are forced to work for little to no wages to pay off a 'smuggling fee' debt. [1]

The exploiter may take the victim’s documentation and threaten deportation if they aren’t citizens. The trafficker often tells the victim lies about what will happen to them if they call for help, including that they can be jailed, abused, and/or raped by police.

Labor trafficking occurs with citizens as well. Youth who are socially isolated and/or financially desperate can be lured into work where high pay is promised, but in fact involves long hours under severe conditions with little freedom. Mentally delayed adults have also recovered from labor trafficking under circumstances where their families believed the victims were being nurtured and cared-for by the traffickers.

Labor Statistics

  • There are more cases of human trafficking reported in California than any other state in the U.S.
  • The International Labour Organization estimates that there are 40.3 million victims of human trafficking globally.
    • 81% of them are trapped in forced labor.
    • 75% are women and girls.
  • 1 in 4 victims of human trafficking are children.
  • The International Labor Organization estimates that forced labor and human trafficking is a $150 billion industry worldwide.
  • There is no official estimate of the total number of human trafficking victims in the U.S. Polaris estimates that the total number of victims nationally reaches into the hundreds of thousands when estimates of both adults and minors and sex trafficking and labor trafficking are aggregated. [2]

Where are they?

massage parlors, elder care, begging, manufacturing, hotel/motel
  1. Domestic Work
  2. Traveling Sales Crews
  3. Restaurants & Food Service
  4. Peddling & Begging
  5. Agriculture & Animal Husbandry
  6. Health & Beauty Services
  7. Construction
  8. Hotels & Hospitality
  9. Landscaping
  10. Illicit Activities
  11. Arts & Entertainment
  12. Commercial Cleaning Services
  13. Factories & Manufacturing
  14. Carnivals
  15. Forestry & Logging
  16. Health Care
  1. Domestic Work

    Domestic workers cook, clean, and sometime care for children within their employer's home. Because they often live in the home, they can be easily isolated by traffickers and exploited, sometimes for very long periods. Traffickers bind domestic workers to them through cultural norms, work visas, fraudulent marriages, and debts. Opportunities for recovery often occur during the limited free time domestic servants are allowed, often for religious attendance. Those entrusted with small children sometimes make contact with sources of aid while taking children to parks. Domestic servants are almost all women, often from the same culture as their traffickers.

  2. Traveling Sales Crews

    Young people short on economic prospects are enticed into traveling with exploiters to communities far from home where they travel door-to-door, often selling magazine subscriptions. These subscriptions are usually fraudulent, and the trafficked victims along with their controllers are very hard to track down after the initial contact with a home-owner. They are often given meticulous scripts for their sales pitch, including false biographical information. The sales crews are kept in hotel rooms with their controller, and the crews stay mobile. Hotel/motel employees are particularly well suited to identify and sales crews and assist with recovery.

  3. Restaurants & Food Service

    Severe exploitation is often the explanation for those restaurants where the prices seem consistently lower than competing businesses. Often, the victims suffering the worst abuses are kept in the back of house, where their opportunity external contact, and therefore, recovery is limited. Further steps to prevent recovery include employer-provided housing and transportation. Regulators and licensers can be an effective way to discover the exploitation. The exploitation stems from gaining a competitive edge. The traffickers will often cheat on other business obligations, such as taxes and insurance. Regulators need to be ready to help exploited workers when investigating other forms of cheating. Initial reports of exploitation from survivors will often come in the form of wage and hour violations.

  4. Peddling & Begging

    There is a great deal of public contact as peddling and begging tends to occur on the street and public transit. Traffickers take advantage of the minimal contact that the public tends to have with even those to whom money is paid or from whom items are purchased. Additionally, distinguishing free person who is peddling or begging from one who is trafficked is exceedingly hard. Victims have generally excepted their dependence on the trafficker, and will act to protect their controller when contacted.

  5. Agriculture & Animal Husbandry

    Polaris reports exploited workers in the agriculture and animal husbandry industry, from corn fields to orange orchards to dairy farms. Some crops such as tobacco—the crop cited most often on Polaris-operated hotlines—require much more intensive labor to harvest, making them more susceptible to forced labor or exploitation. Others frequently mentioned are cattle/dairy, oranges, tomatoes, and strawberries

  6. Health & Beauty Services

    Exploitation is often the reason for the best deals on manicures that people find at their "favorite" nails spot. Most exploited workers are Chinese or Vietnamese-speaking. They are usually paying off a fraudulent debt, and often their exploiters worked off a similar debt before paying the exploitation forward. Accompanying the long work with no pay, exploitation in beauty salons often includes hazardous working conditions. The volatile solvents in nail polish are toxic and require good ventilation and respirators for the workers. Stuffy air and a manicurist who wears only a scarf over her mouth are good signs that the workers are being exploited.

  7. Construction

    The low-wage jobs in the construction industry are dominated by Spanish-speaking workers. Immigration issues and a cultural-cased premium on a can-do attitude as well as a lack of familiarity regarding the myriad regulatory controls within this industry make them vulnerable to many types of abuse. These include insufficient breaks, lack of water and toilet facilities, insufficient safety equipment, and lack of insurance coverage for what amounts to some of the most dangerous work in the market-place. Exploiters can easily keep construction workers away from any public contact, lowering the chance of recovery. Help is primarily found by regulators and insurance investigators surveying construction sights, union compliance investigators, and wage claims from workers with enough freedom to seek them out.

  8. Hotels & Hospitality

    Exploiters in this industry rely heavily on geographic isolation. Incidents tend to be more prevalent in non-urban, resort communities, where the local labor pool is insufficient to meet the demand for housekeeping and other hospitality jobs. Exploiters also frequently use visas tied to the victim's employment and act as contractors to larger hospitality firms. The victims remain compliant because of the visas, and recovery is further deterred as the regular employees do not know how to report the abuses they observe. Common red flags tend to be over-crowded living conditions within a hotel's room, and extremely long work hours.

  9. Landscaping

    Polaris reports that victims of labor trafficking in landscaping are responsible for maintaining public or private grounds, gardens, and nurseries. Landscaping is the most commonly referenced type of labor trafficking and exploitation involving H-2B visa holders in cases reported to Polaris-operated hotlines. H-2B visa holders are not eligible for federally funded legal services, making it extremely difficult to secure services for victims in landscaping.

  10. Illicit Activities

    Street-level drug sales and drug cultivation or processing are frequently performed by trafficking victims. The use of forced labor provides a double benefit: the trafficker is further insulated from the drug sale or cultivation because he is not physically performing the illegal task, and the workers are further discouraged from seeking recovery because of the illegal work they are doing. Large international criminal organizations are often behind this type of trafficking. Victims are at serious risk of extreme violence to themselves or family in their home country. Recovery is often only possible on the condition that local law enforcement refrain from taking action.

  11. Arts & Entertainment

    Cases of labor trafficking have been reported to Polaris-operated hotlines in a variety of sectors of the arts and entertainment industry, including modeling, athletics and, less commonly, in performing arts such as acting, choirs, and dance troupes. The hotlines also have received reports of labor trafficking in exotic dancing. While the lines between sex and labor trafficking in strip clubs is often complex, if the adult victim is forced into exotic dancing with no accompanying sex act, this would be classified as labor trafficking.

  12. Commercial Cleaning Services

    Exploitation of janitorial workers is extremely common. They operate at night, on private property, behind closed doors. Regulation is sparse in comparison to other industries. Labor rights knowledge among janitorial workers is lower than many other industries, in part because union penitration is very low. Janitorial companies use layered systems of sub-contracting to insulate customer companies and properties from knowledge of labor abuses perpetrated against workers. A high percentage of workers do not speak English as their first language. A 2012 study commissioned by the US DOJ found that among undocumented immigrants working in the janitorial industry, more than a quarter had been victims of trafficking while working in the US. When possible, it is important that everyone working in an office building learn the names of any janitorial employee they encounter. Engaging workers in personal conversation wherever possible can be critical in uncovering abuses by janitorial contractors and recovering exploited workers.

  13. Factories & Manufacturing

    Polaris reports that their hotlines have documented labor trafficking and exploitation cases in a wide range of manufacturing facilities, including factories producing processed food, clothing, shoes, electronic devices and vehicles. H-2B visa holders are often victims, but minors also have been referenced in National Hotline cases. Nationalities are much more diverse than in most other labor trafficking types, but the highest concentrations are from Southeast Asia, Latin America, and India.

  14. Carnivals

    Carnival employees tend to be isolated by the transient nature of the work. By the time local law enforcement or service providers learn of possible abuses, workers and their exploiters have moved to a new jurisdiction. Foreign nationals are routinely brought in on work visas that tie them to the carnival, inhibiting recovery by exploited workers. Proactive investigation by regulators can help uncover exploitation, as can casual conversation by carnival patrons. Locating the appropriate jurisdiction is difficult, so identifying the company behind the carnival early is critical, in order to produce documentation to corroborate witness statements while the witnesses are still available.

  15. Forestry & Logging

    According to data from Polaris-operated hotlines, trafficking in the forestry industry has included pine tree farm workers, reforestation planters, loggers, and workers maintaining woodland areas. Survivors in forestry are almost exclusively men from Mexico and Guatemala on H-2B visas, according to cases reported to the National Hotline.

  16. Health Care

    Nursing homes provide a setting much like domestic work where the exploited worker can be isolated: workers often live on site and their primary contact is with the patients in their care. Insurance investigators and health inspectors are two primary avenues for detection and recovery. Victims are usually female. Enforcement actions present a problem as the closure of a facility would render the patients homeless.

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[1] Human Trafficking—Exploitation of Illegal Aliens - Federation for American Immigration Reform

[2] The Facts- Polaris Project