Most people associate the term “human trafficking” with underaged girls who are paid to engage in sexual acts against their will. While that is human trafficking, it is only one type of human trafficking. Another often overlooked form of human trafficking that is happening right here in Oklahoma: labor trafficking.
Oklahoma law defines human trafficking for labor as using deception, force, fraud, threat or coercion to engage a person in labor, or recruiting, transporting, or benefitting from that labor. In other words, victims of labor trafficking are forced to work due to force, threats, or coercion. Similar to sex traffickers, labor traffickers prey on the most vulnerable members of society who have few alternatives and little means to escape the abuse. Vulnerable populations include runaway youth, people who have a history of abuse or trauma, individuals with cognitive delay or disability, low income individuals, and members of the LGBTQ community. Labor trafficking is different than sub-standard working conditions or unfair pay. Victims of this type of human trafficking do not work voluntarily, but instead work under a threat or penalty.
Worldwide, an estimated 20.9 million people are victims of forced labor. The private economy is responsible for 90% of this labor trafficking, specifically the textile, fishing, construction, and agricultural industries. In the United States, more foreign human trafficking victims are found in forced labor than in sex trafficking. Labor traffickers often make false promises of paths to citizenship, education opportunities, or high-paying jobs to lure unknowing victims into terrible working conditions. Victims of human trafficking frequently work grueling hours for little to no pay. Labor traffickers may keep victims entrapped by using physical violence, by confiscating victims’ passports, by psychological control, or through debt bondage. State and local governments also engage in forced labor. In foreign countries this may look like child soldiers or rebel governments. In the United States, state-imposed forced labor largely occurs in state or federal prisons through convict work forces.
In Oklahoma, the top five places where labor trafficking occurs are:
- Traveling sales
- Domestic work
- Health and beauty services
- Restaurants and food service
Human trafficking in these locations occurs in both rural and urban areas throughout the state.
Most often, human trafficking in traveling sales takes the form of door-to-door magazine sales. The seller may say he works for a company or clearinghouse and is usually 16 years or older. In labor trafficking through traveling sales, the victim is isolated from their friends and family by being geographically separated and having limited access to telephones. Victims are required to meet daily sales quotas, work long hours, buy their meals from their trafficker, and receive little to no income for their work.
Labor trafficking in Oklahoma also occurs in beauty services such as massage parlors. Though massage parlors can be a location for sex trafficking, massage parlor workers can also be exploited through labor trafficking. Women are frequently targeted to work in massage parlors under the false promise of a high-paying job. Often these victims are then forced into debt bondage and required to work long hours, sometimes involving sexual services to the massage parlor clients. Oklahoma police officers had a recent case in which a woman was recruited from Kentucky to work in a Del City massage parlor, where she then became a human trafficking victim.
Labor trafficking is a pervasive issue nationally, so it’s important to be aware of the industries in which it most frequently occurs and the risk factors that make it more likely to be victimized. If you believe you or someone you know may be a victim of labor trafficking, contact Koller Law to learn more about your rights.