Labor trafficking is a crime where an individual is exploited for financial gain. It involves the use of force, fraud, or coercion to compel a person to provide labor or services for little or no wages.
Labor trafficking can occur in any industry and is an underreported crime. Industries more vulnerable to labor trafficking include agriculture, construction, domestic work, factories and manufacturing, healthcare, hospitality, and landscaping.
Search for organizations and programs offering services to victims and survivors of human trafficking.
- Blue Campaign – Labor Trafficking Awareness Videos
- Human Trafficking at Home: Labor Trafficking of Domestic Workers
- Labor Trafficking Resource Guide
- Labor Trafficking 101
- Online Training: Foundations to Combat Labor Trafficking and Labor Trafficking Outreach Fundamentals
- Survivor Perspectives: Increasing Identification Through Labor Trafficking Outreach
- Understanding Labor Trafficking
"For much of the past two decades, anti-trafficking efforts within the United States have predominantly focused on sex trafficking, and there is a growing recognition that more needs to be done to address labor trafficking."
- the Office for Victims of Crime
These questions and answers come from Ask an Expert: Labor Trafficking 101 conversations where victim service practitioners shared their experiences supporting survivors of human trafficking.
People almost never self-identify as victims of trafficking. This makes discovering this crime more difficult because victims rarely self-report, and the time and resources required to uncover violations can be significant. Victims of labor trafficking often overcome additional barriers because the victimization is connected to employment. The majority of labor trafficking cases at Ayuda come from an Ayuda attorney talking with an individual and noticing something isn’t right, which can lead to uncovering labor trafficking for the first time. The federal definition of labor trafficking encompasses a lot of different behaviors and can look like different things. Knowing the legal definition is important as a lawyer. As a non-lawyer, staying alert to the indicators is key. A lot of labor trafficking Ayuda sees, unfortunately, happens within families, within the home. That can add another entire dimension of victimization. The victim may still be economically, emotionally, and legally dependent on the person who is their trafficker.
Labor trafficking is the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labor services, through the use of force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery. Human smuggling is more often associated—not so much with the H2-A workers—but with the seasonal and migrant workers. Human smuggling includes the movement of individuals against their will, generally across state or country borders. Labor exploitation incorporates elements of both, usually identified by significant worker debt and little to no wages paid. Labor exploitation is usually associated with one debt and then generally that person is free once the debt is paid. Knowing the indicators of labor trafficking is important when identifying labor trafficking from these other issues. It is also important to recognize when something feels off, this can be an important first step in reaching victims.
Labor violations—related to improper payment of wages or other working condition violations—can be submitted at any of the Wage and Hour Division offices across the U.S. or the national phone number at 1- 866–4–USWAGE. Visit www.dol.gov/whd. What may begin as a simple labor violation can turn into something else; do not hesitate to make the call and share the information. Labor trafficking allegations will be referred to the proper agency.
Labor trafficking victims need similar services to those for victims of sex trafficking. In both instances, the victim’s wishes, safety, and well-being should take priority in all matters and procedures to ensure the compassionate and sensitive delivery of services in a nonjudgmental manner. Many cases of labor trafficking include an element of sexual abuse and sexual exploitation. Many of the indicators of labor trafficking may also be similar to those indicators of sex trafficking. Immediate needs are also similar—physical safety, medical care, psychological care, and housing. Legally, sex and labor trafficking are both crimes. While the law enforcement agency to handle the case may differ, the process of working with law enforcement for labor trafficking or sex trafficking is the same. During this process, the victim of labor trafficking will want to know about confidentiality and the risks of retaliation from the trafficker. This experience is the same across both sex and labor trafficking. From an immigration perspective, the options are also the same. The Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act (TVPA) of 2000 created a type of visa specifically for victims of human trafficking. This is something equally available to victims of labor trafficking and sex trafficking.
Risk factors such as poverty, prior abuse, isolated location with access to the Internet, and jurisdictional issues between Tribal and local agencies responding to human trafficking can put American Indians and Alaska Natives at risk for both sex and labor trafficking. Traffickers might exploit vulnerabilities and promise victims better opportunities, for example, outside the Tribal community. In addition, remote Tribal communities may have limited access to organizations or experts who could potentially identify and assist victims. Developing relationships with these organizations and experts could be critical in understanding how labor trafficking may be manifesting itself in a specific community.
As soon as you find out someone needs help, refer them to a victim service provider in your area. Whoever comes in contact with a potential victim of labor trafficking can make a referral, assist in connecting the person with a trained professional who can find out more about the situation and connect them to resources. Support may be legal services, law enforcement, or a victim service provider. Create a list of available resources in your area so when this situation happens you know who to call for assistance. The National Human Trafficking Hotline is a searchable database of local resources. The Office for Victims of Crime, Help for Victims webpage shares toll free and online hotlines as well as state resources for victims of crime.
For referrals to local service providers, contact the National Human Trafficking Hotline (1-888-373-7888). There is also a list of task forces and service providers receiving funding from the Office for Victims of Crime to offer services to victims of human trafficking.
If you or a loved one are experiencing human trafficking, you are not alone.
Strong Hearts Native Helpline and the National Human Trafficking hotline are available 24/7 to listen. All conversations over phone, text, and online chat are confidential and anonymous.
- Strong Hearts Native Helpline - 1-844-7NATIVE (762-8483) is a 24/7 safe, confidential, and anonymous domestic, dating and sexual violence helpline for American Indians and Alaska Natives, offering culturally appropriate support and advocacy.
- National Human Trafficking Hotline - 1-888-373-7888, text "BeFree" (233733), or live chat at humantraffickinghotline.org.
During your conversations, if you desire, you may receive referrals to state or local resources.