Labor Trafficking Examples

Below are the kinds of labor trafficking situations that we hear about most frequently on the U.S. National Human Trafficking Hotline. They are by no means the only ways that labor trafficking can occur, but taken together may help you craft your own stories in ways that are realistic and impactful.

“Most labor trafficking victims in the U.S. are immigrants, but they are not necessarily undocumented immigrants – that’s a myth.”

– A survivor of human trafficking

Migrants, immigrants and domestic work

  • Recruitment and grooming: A diplomat entices someone from her home country with an offer to come to the United States and care for her children. They promise the worker a good wage and the opportunity for her to go to school here. The diplomat repeatedly tells the worker how lucky she is for the opportunity she would never get at home. If she returns home without having completed the job, she will be ashamed because so many people in her community are desperate for better opportunities.
  • Coercion and control: When she gets here, the worker is told she will sleep in a closet and is also responsible for keeping the house and yard, and making and serving all meals. Her passport is taken and she is told she can’t leave the house without permission. When she complains, the employer threatens her family in her home country and says she will call ICE and have the worker arrested for being here illegally.
  • Exit: The worker sneaks a phone call to a community center for people from her country and gets help. The trafficker is never punished.

Domestic work in marriage

  • Recruitment and grooming: A man from a conservative, patriarchal society promises a poor girl’s family he will marry and take care of her in the United States. She has been raised her whole life knowing she will have an arranged marriage.
  • Coercion and control: Once here, the wife is forced to take care of the husband’s children from another relationship, keep the house, work in the family business and not leave the house. She has no money and does not speak the language. Her husband tells her complaining will bring shame on her family and ruin her sister’s chances of a good marriage.
  • Exit: The wife befriends someone in her religious community – the one place she is allowed to socialize – and the friend helps her find a lawyer.

Exploitation of disabilities

  • Recruitment: A couple befriends a woman with a developmental disability and promises her safety and shelter in return for help around the house.
  • Coercion and control: The victim is put to work in a family business for long hours every day and not paid. She is told if she doesn’t like it, they will send her to a halfway house that is more like a prison. They cash her disability check monthly.
  • Exit: The victim’s family, who has lost track of her, finds her and brings her home.

Exploitation of addiction

  • Recruitment: A person struggling to stay clean from drugs joins a spiritual community that lives under the guidance of a charismatic leader.
  • Coercion and control: The formerly addicted person is put to work making and selling crafts in abusive conditions for no pay. Those who complain are expelled from the community, which they have come to depend upon in order to maintain sobriety.
  • Exit: The victim collapses from exhaustion and hospital staff recognize she needs help and connect her with services.

Fraudulent job offers

  • Recruitment and grooming: A mid-level manager in India is offered a dream job that sounds like a promotion in the United States. When the family gets here, the trafficker tricks them out of their savings, takes out a loan under their name, and then tells them they are working in the back of a restaurant washing dishes.
  • Coercion and control: The family is not paid and has no money to escape. The trafficker tells them if they complain to the police they will be arrested and separated from their children because they entered the country illegally.
  • Exit: One of the children’s teachers notices they have no winter coats and goes to visit the family. They confide in her and she helps them seek legal assistance.

Recruitment fees and debt bondage

  • Recruitment and grooming: A 25-year-old man from an Indigenous community in Mexico learns on social media about a job at a farm in the United States. The job comes with a legal, temporary visa and is well paid. In his hometown, most of the adults take these kinds of jobs overseas for half the year to support their families.
  • Coercion and control: He is told by the recruiter that it costs $5,000 for the visa but the advertised wages make it worthwhile, so the worker borrows the money from his new employer. When he gets here, he is told he is working off the debt the business owner incurred bringing him here and will not be paid for the first several months of work. Soon, his boss begins charging him for water, lunch, and transportation to and from the work site. His debt is increasing at a rate that will be extremely difficult to pay back. If he leaves, he will have no way to pay back the money he borrowed. The boss tells him he will be barred from ever returning on a legal visa. Although there is no such thing as an official blacklist, the worker knows that his boss knows many of the recruiters who come to his town, so it would be impossible to get work in the future. He feels he has no choice but to stay and try to pay off the debt.
  • Exit: Too concerned about being blacklisted for the future, the worker decides to just get through the abusive situation and try for a better position next year. His parents have to sell their home and move in with relatives to pay their debt.

Need help? Polaris operates the U.S. National Human Trafficking Hotline.