Forced labor is a reality, and it’s all around us. But due to lack of in-depth reporting on the various cases in the United States, we often assume modern-day slavery only occurs in remote areas of the globe.
Unfortunately, forced labor is everywhere — in the hotel industry, farms, restaurants, and even construction sites.
Workers from a foreign country, such as Mexico or the Philippines for example, are frequently lured by promises of green cards and guaranteed work in the United States, according to an Urban Institute and Northeastern University report. But the opportunity is only available if they pay thousands of dollars in fees.
After putting their families in debt in order to get the process going, these workers come to the U.S., but instead of a green card, they get a temporary work visa.
And instead of a position that meets the nature of work promised by the recruiter, they find themselves working in a house as a servant, at a farm, or in the back of a restaurant.
And instead of getting paid as promised, the worker finally discovers that their money is taken from their paycheck for housing and food.
Their employer then locks away their passport and documents, and the worker is prohibited from leaving. If the worker tries to run away, then the employer will make sure he or she is deported.
Unfortunately, the system in place makes use of employers who may be actively involved in fraud or who simply turn a blind eye to how the recruitment process takes place. Due to the lack of detailed information on the individuals or groups who run these schemes, researchers are unaware of how widespread the problem is and how many people are victims.
According to the Poralis Project, a nonprofit, non-governmental organization that fights to eradicate modern slavery, there have been nearly 30,000 human trafficking and labor exploitation cases in the U.S. since 2007. In 18 percent of cases, the victim had been granted a temporary visa.
The overwhelming majority of cases, or a little over 73 percent, involve male victims, Polaris also discovered. Some of the U.S. industries that heavily depend on forced labor include agriculture, landscaping, and hospitality. Others that make use of trafficked workers include the restaurant and food service industry, construction, transportation, recreational facilities, and domestic work agencies.
If anything, this proves that modern-day slavery is behind the food we eat, the buildings in which we reside, the hotels in which we stay, and even the restaurants at which we eat.
And with an estimated 21 million people being victims of modern-day slavery, it's clear that a great deal of American businesses will continue to make use of the practice unless individuals profiting from it are held accountable.
In order to ensure that this issue is addressed, experts suggest that government agencies better educate border officials, immigration attorneys, embassy employees, and law enforcement so they are better prepared to recognize trafficking when it occurs.
They also urge policymakers to work to develop rules and regulations that would prohibit the use of work recruiters under certain circumstances and that would also require companies to prove they do not make use of slave labor.
While President Donald Trump's administration has promised to make more resources and support available in the fight against forced labor, Trump has yet to put his money where his mouth is.
Trump once told a group of lawmakers that "human trafficking is worse now, maybe, than it's ever been in the history of this world," while his daughter, Ivanka Trump, said that the practice "is a major foreign policy priority for the Trump administration."
But after a few meetings and a lot of discussions regarding the tragic realities of victims of human trafficking, the Trump administration has yet to explain exactly how they intend to bring the "full force and weight" of the U.S. government to fight it.
According to anti-slave labor advocates, such as Freedom United, some countries implement policies that prevent abuses and that target individuals who profit from forced labor.
With advocacy organizations pushing the American government as well as local and state governments to adopt policies that help to ensure modern-day slavery is being prevented and fought locally, we will be able to bring an end to this horrific trend.
After all, modern-day slavery is part of our lives — whether we identify it when it happens or not.