Labor trafficking has been left unchecked in the traveling sales crews industry in the United States for decades. Traffickers target young people to sell magazines and other products door-to-door throughout the United States with false promises of fun, travel, and high earnings . Instead, abusive managers manipulate, abuse, sexually harass or even sexually assault victims to coerce them into working long hours for little pay and to intimidate those who wish to leave their situation. Crew members who do manage to leave often end up isolated and abandoned in unfamiliar areas with no means to travel back home.
Traffickers avoid detection by frequently moving their operating locations and even changing the names of their businesses. Attempts to address exploitation over the years have failed, and sales crews are the second most reported labor trafficking industry on the National Human Trafficking Hotline and BeFree Textline.
- 419 cases of labor trafficking on sales crews.*
- 42 states where labor trafficking on sales crews have been reported.*
- 25% of cases referenced abandoned workers with no means to return home.*
*Cases reported to the National Hotline and Polaris’s BeFree Textline (Jan. 2008 - Feb. 2015)
Government entities, law enforcement, service providers, businesses, and consumers can and should take action in order to protect workers from abuse and exploitation, and reduce trafficking in this industry. Congress should amend The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) in order to cover door-to-door sales. Law enforcement must pursue bad actors at the top of the sales network, instead of focusing on crew members violating local anti-solicitation laws. Service organizations should recognize crew members as victims of labor trafficking so they can receive support. And the publishing industry should ensure transparent business supply chains in their magazine sales.
Our Work In Action
The National Human Trafficking Hotline, operated by Polaris, has responded to hundreds of cases of labor trafficking in sales crews, and connected victims to shelter and other services. Based on our direct experience with this network, Polaris issued a groundbreaking report on labor trafficking in sales crews. Federal and local human trafficking professionals noted that the report is strengthening their efforts to investigate sales crews and increase support for victims.
Photo credit: Flickr / Sean Winters