WASHINGTON, D.C. – Polaris, a leader in the global fight to eradicate modern slavery and restore freedom to survivors, released a report today that details disturbing levels of labor trafficking within the traveling sales crew industry in the United States. Working within a largely unregulated industry, sales crew members are showing up at the doors of American homes to sell magazines or other products. Yet, few people realize these youth are often controlled by their managers with threats, psychological manipulation, denial of food, and abuse. “Knocking at Your Door: Labor Trafficking on Traveling Sales Crews” reveals how these crews operate, while spotlighting the failed federal and state legislative attempts to address this exploitation.
An unfamiliar model of labor trafficking in the U.S., traffickers make significant profits while avoiding detection by law enforcement and the public. Traffickers target low-income, young people with false promises of fun, travel, and high earnings. Instead, crew members often end up trapped, isolated, and abandoned in unfamiliar cities with no means to travel back home. Victims are afforded few legal employment rights in the industry, leaving them unprotected from abusive labor practices.
Polaris encourages consumers to be cautious when buying magazines or other items from sales crews not clearly affiliated with a local organization like a school or scout troop, and to provide the National Human Trafficking Resource Center (1-888-373-7888) or BeFree (233733) hotline numbers to crew members who display signs of potential trafficking if it is safe to do so.
“This is a classic example of the hidden nature of labor trafficking in the United States. These youth are showing up right at our doors, but few people recognize them as victims of a crime. If crew members complain about their conditions or don’t meet their daily quotas, they can be threatened and beaten,”said Bradley Myles, CEO of Polaris. “This form of labor trafficking has been left unchecked for decades. State and federal governments, law enforcement, service providers, businesses, and consumers can and should take action to protect workers and reduce labor trafficking.”
Knocking at Your Door is based on human trafficking hotline data, public records, first-hand survivor accounts, and interviews with industry experts. Key highlights from the report include:
- Fraud is rampant in the hiring process, with working conditions and commissions greatly misrepresented. Managers use force, fraud, and coercion through psychological manipulation, violence, and assault to pressure victims to work harder and intimidate those who wish to leave through “cult like” peer pressure. As one survivor shared in an interview, “At the time I felt like I didn’t have a choice. They do a good job of convincing you that you have to keep up your sales and stay with the crew.”
- Abandonment is a key threat and tool used by managers, and unique to this form of labor trafficking. If a worker doesn’t meet quotas or wishes to leave the crew, they are often left behind in unknown cities without the means for transportation to return home.
- The National Human Trafficking Resource Center (NHTRC) hotline and Polaris’s BeFree Textline received more reports of labor trafficking on sales crews in the U.S. than in any other industry except domestic work. Thirty-four percent of cases reportedly involved minors.
- An unfamiliar model of labor trafficking to law enforcement and the general public, traffickers avoid detection by frequently moving their operating locations and even changing the names of their businesses.
- Numerous federal and state legislative attempts to address exploitation have failed, with the exception of a state law in Wisconsin. Traveling sales crew members are exempt from most of the federal labor protections afforded to direct employees because they are classified as independent contractors or outside sales workers. Victims also have few legal employment rights within this industry, preventing them from seeking assistance.
Polaris also highlighted a number of steps that can be taken by various stakeholders to reduce labor trafficking and exploitation among sales crews and increase victim support. The recommendations include encouraging Congress to amend the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) in order to cover door-to-door sales, the federal government to investigate abuses of the J-1 visa program, service organizations to recognize crew members as victims of labor trafficking so they can receive support, and the publishing industry to ensure transparent business supply chains in their magazine sales.
People can receive help or report a tip of suspected human trafficking by calling the National Human Trafficking Resource Center (NHTRC) at 1-888-373-7888 or by sending a text to Polaris at “BeFree” (233733).
Polaris is a leader in the global fight to eradicate modern slavery. Named after the North Star that guided slaves to freedom in the U.S., Polaris acts as a catalyst to systemically disrupt the human trafficking networks that rob human beings of their lives and their freedom. By working with government leaders, the world’s leading technology corporations, and local partners, Polaris equips communities to identify, report, and prevent human trafficking. Our comprehensive model puts victims at the center of what we do – helping survivors restore their freedom, preventing more victims, and leveraging data and technology to pursue traffickers wherever they operate. Learn more at www.polarisproject.org.