Thursday, April 4, 2024

Event 4/24: The Surge In Child Labor: Conventions, Laws, and Challenges

On April 24, 2024, from 1:00-2:00pm ET, please join the ABA Section of Civil Rights and Social Justice for a webinar exploring child labor. The distinguished speakers will be Zama Neff, Benjamin Smith, and Jessica Leinward, and the event will be moderated by Elizabeth Barad. 

The recent rise of children at work is due to the increase in inflation and the cost of living, and in the United States, lessening of state protective laws and the use of migrant children. The International Labor Organization indicates there are 160 million children engaged in child labor, working in jobs that deprive them of their childhood and harm their mental and physical development. Some of the worst forms of work involve sexual exploitation. The BBC reported a mother forced to put her daughter into sex work to help support the family and survive living costs. In the United States, at least 14 states have rolled back child protection laws, and the NY Times reported that migrant children are employed in brutal work all across the U.S. Despite the International Labor Organization's prohibitive child labor laws, the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the U.S. Department of Labor's laws, these practices persist. Our expert panelists will propose possible solutions.

This event is free and open to the public. Register for this event here.

April 4, 2024 in Children, Immigrants, Trafficking | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Labor Trafficking: America’s New Slavery

Emily Horsford HeadshotBy Emily Horsford, 3L and Student Attorney with the Human Rights at Home Litigation Clinic at St. Louis University School of Law

Labor trafficking is modern-day slavery. People, often immigrants, are forced to perform work through the use of force or fraud. Victims are kept enslaved through violence, threats and coercion. This is an ongoing issue in our world today.

Mario said goodbye to his wife and daughters and began the long, slow walk to freedom. Thirty-three days later, he crossed the border into the United States of America—the land of the free. He came here because economic opportunities in his native country of Guatemala are nonexistent. He came here because America is the land of opportunity; a place where anyone who works hard can succeed. He came here because America promises a refuge for those who yearn to breathe free, for the homeless, for the tempest-tossed. He came here because, to the world, America means freedom.

For Mario, America did not live up to her promises. After several years of transient living around the country, Mario came to St. Louis, Missouri, lured by the promise of a job in construction that included housing. He worked hard. He did good work. He didn’t complain. For three months, Mario worked despite never being paid for his efforts. When his co-workers pressed their boss, he threatened to call the police. Scared of that threat because of their illegal status, the men continued to work for free, once for 23 hours straight. Mario kept his head down and did what he knew how to do: he worked hard.

Then, just a week before Thanksgiving, the boss gathered the mostly Latin American workers together and told them they were fired and evicted from the job-sponsored housing. Mario had nowhere to go. He was still owed thousands of dollars for all of his hard work. Wasn’t this America, the place where you worked hard and were rewarded with success? In confusion, Mario put all his belongings into a storage locker and sought help from a church. The church directed him to an attorney who could help him file a lawsuit to attempt to recover some of his unpaid wages. The case is ongoing.

In the meantime, Mario lives in an apartment with another of the fired workers, Julian, and Julian’s wife and three children. Without a job bringing in any money, Mario lost all of his belongings when he couldn’t pay the storage unit fees. Work has been uncertain and sporadic. Mario hopes the lawsuit will resolve in his favor, giving him some of his wages from the many months of work he did. In the meantime, he waits.

Mario’s story is, unfortunately, not unique. There are thousands of immigrants trafficked each year in America. They are forced to work without pay or in dangerous conditions and when they complain, they are threatened. Fearful of their legal status being discovered, confused about their rights, hesitant to make trouble, they suffer in silence. This is modern-day slavery and it must be stopped. That leads us to the question: What can be done?

In the long term, America needs a comprehensive overhaul of its immigration laws. With partisan gridlock, that may not occur for quite some time but that doesn’t mean all is lost. More immediate solutions are available. President Joe Biden campaigned on reducing trafficking in the United States. We must hold him to those promises. More support should be given to victims’ rights groups including assistance in paths to citizenship.

In 2000, the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act was passed, creating the T Visa, a visa designed to protect victims of trafficking. Twenty-plus years later, this visa is under-utilized. An emphasis must be placed on helping trafficking victims apply for this visa so they can stay in America and help prosecute their abusers. By cracking down on those who utilize enforced labor, our government can help victims of trafficking move forward in their lives. Then, aid organizations can step in and provide assistance for these victims to become citizens and productive members of American society.

Those who exploit workers must be prosecuted to the full extent of the law and used as an example of the pain and punishment awaiting any who might be considering using trafficked labor. Americans must show the world that we have banished slavery to the history books and it is not tolerated by our citizens today.

For those inclined, there are numerous organizations dedicated to helping trafficking victims that can use your financial support:;

April 27, 2021 in Immigrants, Immigration, Trafficking, Workplace | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, June 29, 2017

CRC Committee Releases Recommendations on U.S. Response to Child Trafficking

 by Jonathan Todres

Image1Last month, the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child met with a U.S. government delegation as part of its formal review of the United States under two of the optional protocols to the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The United States ratified the Optional Protocol on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution, and Child Pornography and the Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict in 2002, and this represented a combined third and fourth review of the U.S. government practices. The Committee has now released its Concluding Observations  with respect to the U.S. efforts under the Optional Protocol on the Sale of Children.

While acknowledging a number of important legislative developments in the United States since the last review – such as the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act (JVTA) and the Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act – the Committee also addressed a number of critical shortcomings. What is notable (and troubling) is that many of the Committee’s recommendations highlighted issues in the U.S. response that the Committee previously addressed in 2008 and 2013. These findings should be a reminder to policy makers and anti-trafficking advocates that although significant efforts are underway, the U.S. response still has a long way to go.

Highlights of the Committee recommendations are below:

  1. Insufficient data collection and evidence-based research. The Committee reiterated concerns over the “lack of progress on establishing an effective national data collection system on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography” and the “insufficient research and evidence-based policy and programme analysis centred on children and the root causes of the crimes affecting them.” Simply put, without good evidence, it’s highly unlikely that the U.S. can develop a truly effective response.
  2. Lack of evaluation of training programs. The Committee praised the U.S. government’s report that it provides training on trafficking and other issues covered by the Optional Protocol “to all persons and institutions that come into contact with children” (NGOs working on these issues will be surprised by this claim by the U.S. government). However, the Committee notes the importance of evaluating the effectiveness and impact of that training. Evaluation of laws, policies, and programs continues to be insufficient, leaving it unclear whether the U.S. is doing something or doing something effective.
  3. Unbalanced efforts in addressing sex trafficking and labor trafficking. The Committee restated its finding that across many areas the U.S. government’s emphasis on sex trafficking persists. There still are higher legal burdens for establishing trafficking of children for forced labor than for sexual exploitation, and research remains “overwhelmingly focused on trafficking for sexual exploitation” with relatively little on labor trafficking. All children deserve protection from exploitation.
  4. Lack of primary prevention focus and efforts. The Committee again noted that the U.S. response typically takes place after some harm has occurred and urged the U.S. government to focus also on primary and secondary prevention. Prevention must be the ultimate goal, and general awareness campaigns are not sufficient. The U.S. government must address the root causes of vulnerability and of the demand for goods and services provided by exploited children, if we are to make meaningful progress in preventing harm to children.
  5. Finally, the Committee also acknowledged the recent surge in the number of unaccompanied refugee and migrant children, and it urged the U.S. government to take concerted efforts to ensure the protection of these children.

The entire Concluding Observations are worth a close reading. Addressing the above recommendations and other recommendations in the Concluding Observations will take significant effort and resources to address. However, they offer a roadmap to preventing harm to children and ensuring the rights of all children. Both of those aims seem worth the effort and resources.

June 29, 2017 in Children, JoAnn Kamuf Ward, Juveniles, Trafficking | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, June 19, 2017

Special Rapporteur on Trafficking Releases US Report

by Cindy Soohoo

Image1As I wrote in an earlier post, the Special Rapporteur on Trafficking, Maria Grazia Giammarinaro conducted an official visit to the U.S. last December.  Her final report issued last week emphasizes that the U.S. needs to do more to address inadequate labor protections, restrictive immigration policies, discrimination and poverty, which are the root causes of trafficking.  She also criticizes U.S. laws and policies that criminalize trafficking victims for acts they were forced to commit.

The report had a strong labor focus, noting the U.S.’s “limited identification of trafficking for labor exploitation and forms of trafficking other than for sexual exploitation.”  It emphasizes that “economic inequality and social exclusion, discrimination, organised crimes such as drug trafficking, and insufficient labour protections are causes of vulnerability to human trafficking.”  As a result many workers “have been compelled to work in precarious or informal employment, on short-term or part-time contracts, on temporary visa if they are migrants rendering them vulnerable to human trafficking.” In particular, the report emphasized that non-immigrant visas that tie immigrants to an employer create vulnerabilities for abuse and trafficking.  The report noted that “40 percent of labour trafficking reported to the national hotline/textline are linked with temporary visas.” 

The report recommends that the U.S. strengthen protections for workers, including laws that require fair terms of employment and increase the minimum wage.  It also states that the U.S. should ensure that migrant workers with temporary non-immigrant visas are free to leave or change employment or return to their country of origin.

The report recognizes that criminalization of prostitution also makes people more vulnerable to trafficking.  Prostitution related arrests and raids create “fear of arrest, prosecution or deportation” which increases the insecurity of trafficking victims and forces them “to work underground in dangerous environments; which in turn renders their identification as victims of trafficking more difficult.” 

In addition to making it more difficult to identify trafficking victims who fear coming forward, criminalization of victims of trafficking for acts they were forced to commit violates international standards. The report emphasizes the U.S. should fully implement the “non-punishment principle” which requires that “trafficked persons shall not be detained, charged or prosecuted for the illegality of their entry into or residence in countries . . . , or for their involvement in unlawful activities to the extent that such involvement is a direct consequence of their situation as trafficked persons.”  The report also notes with concern that in many states minors can be prosecuted for prostitution/sex work.  The report recommends that the U.S. decriminalize the selling of commercial sex and raise the age of criminal responsibility to ensure that children under 18 are immune from prosecution for prostitution/sex work.

In order to mitigate the impact of criminalization, the Special Rapporteur welcomed state efforts to adopt laws that allow trafficking victims to vacate convictions for crimes committed as a result of their status as trafficked persons.  However, she criticized gaps in laws including only providing relief for minors or limiting the types of offenses that can be vacated and recommends that vacatur laws be adopted that allow vacatur of all convictions that result from being subjected to trafficking.

June 19, 2017 in Cindy Soohoo, Trafficking | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Why Human Rights Matter to Anti-Trafficking Efforts


Jonathan Todres

January is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month.  Despite the tireless efforts of many, as President Obama stated  in his recent Presidential Proclamation, “the injustice of modern slavery and human trafficking still tears at our social fabric.” This month provides an opportunity to both raise awareness about the problem and galvanize Image1support for action that can reduce the prevalence of human trafficking.

There is a growing body of law at the international, national, and state levels addressing human trafficking specifically.  Although those represent important developments, there has been limited progress on the root causes of human trafficking. That’s where human rights come in. Human trafficking thrives because there is demand for the good and services produced by exploited individuals and because there are millions of vulnerable adults and children.

The foundational principle of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights” – is a direct challenge to the devaluation of human lives that is embedded in the demand side of human trafficking. Human rights education  fosters tolerance and reduces disregard for others’ rights.  And, when realized, human rights – including the rights to birth registration, health care, education, and housing; labor rights; and the principle of nondiscrimination, to name a few – can reduce the vulnerability of marginalized populations so that they are not pushed into human trafficking settings.

The challenges we face today as human rights advocates are seemingly endless. It’s often difficult simply drawing sufficient attention to rights violations. Human trafficking is one area where everyone from policymakers to parents wants action.  Demonstrating the value of human rights to human trafficking can help advance anti-trafficking efforts and serve as a model for applying human rights approaches to other pressing issues.

January 10, 2017 in Jonathan Todres, Trafficking | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

UN Special Rapporteur on Trafficking Recommends that the U.S. Adopt a Stronger Focus on Labor Exploitation and Cease Prostitution Arrests

by Cynthia Soohoo

Image1In what may be the last official UN human rights expert visit to the U.S. for a long time, last Friday, Maria Grazia Giammarinaro, the UN Special Rapporteur on Trafficking, concluded her 10-day visit to the U.S. In an official statement issued on Monday, she encouraged the U.S. to adopt a more proactive and systemic effort to address forced labor and labor exploitation. She also questioned the focus and impact of the U.S.’s current anti-trafficking strategies, which rely heavily on prostitution arrests.

U.N. human rights experts must be “invited” before conducting official country missions. The Obama administration has been fairly open to visits from UN Special Rapporteurs and expert Working Groups. Since 2009, at least 13 official visits were conducted prior to Giammarinaro’s visit. However, the U.S. has been widely criticized for refusing to invite Juan Mendez, the former U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture, despite repeated requests for in an invitation over Mendez’s 6 year term.

Special Rapporteur and Working Group visits can provide important opportunities to raise the visibility of current rights violations and pressure government reform. For instance, following visits this past summer and fall, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention urged the U.S. to cease mandatory detention of all migrants and specifically called for the end of detention of families and unaccompanied minors, and the Special Rapporteur on the Rights to Freedom of Assembly and Association criticized U.S. security forces for using excessive force against the protesters at Standing Rock.

Visits can also challenge current policy assumptions and provide opportunities to encourage human rights based solutions. Preparation for visits often brings activists working on different issues and in different locations together providing unique opportunities to collaborate. This is especially important on issues like trafficking where there is widespread public and political attention, but where current policies may be ineffective or have an adverse impact on victims of abuse and exploitation.

In her official statement the Special Rapporteur on Trafficking praised the U.S.’s commitment to address trafficking and its “impressive number of laws and initiatives,” but she noted that many anti-trafficking initiatives can have “an adverse impact on trafficked persons.” In particular, laws and policies that focus on arrest of people engaged in sex work result in fear of law enforcement that make it more difficult for trafficking victims to come forward. Further, criminal convictions make it difficult for victims to gain stability and independence by imposing substantial barriers to obtaining housing, education and employment.

The Special Rapporteur recommended that the U.S. adopt “a human rights based approach to trafficking which includes the de-criminalization of those who engage in prostitution” and “encourage[d] law enforcement officials to use their discretion to avoid arresting sex workers as they can be potential victims of sex trafficking.” Her recommendations are consistent with international human rights principles that emphasize that victims of trafficking should not be prosecuted for violations they were forced to commit as a result of their trafficking situation.

The Special Rapporteur urged the U.S. to adopt a preventative approach to trafficking and explore root causes that make people vulnerable to trafficking including “[s]ocial and economic inequalities, humanitarian and economic situation in neighborhood countries, [and] increasing stigmatization of migrants.” She also encouraged the U.S. to reconsider immigration and labor policies that make workers vulnerable to traffickers, specifically criticizing work visas that tie workers to employers because “they are prevented from denouncing exploitation for fear of losing their job or their residence status.”

The Special Rapporteur’s recommendations will become all the more urgent in the coming months as the Trump administration considers whether to adopt even more restrictive immigration policies. “Walls, fences and laws criminalizing irregular migration do not prevent human trafficking,” she warned.  “On the contrary, they increase the vulnerabilities of people fleeing conflict, persecution, crisis situations and extreme poverty, who can fall easy prey to traffickers and exploiters.” 


December 21, 2016 in Cindy Soohoo, Trafficking | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, November 25, 2016

Special Rapporteur on Trafficking to Visit the US

The UN Special Rapporteur on Trafficking will visit the United States between December 6-16th.  

Rapporteur Judge Maria Grazia Giammarinaro will visit four US cities to meet with civil society, grassroots organizers and government officials.  According to the UN Website, the duties of the rapporteur are threefold,

1. Take action on violations committed against trafficked persons and on situations in which there has been a failure to protect their human rights.

2.Undertakes country visits in order to study the situation in situ and formulate recommendations to prevent and or combat trafficking and protect the human rights of its victims in specific countries and/or regions.

3.  Submit annual reports on the activities of the mandate.

The special focus of the visit will be on women and girls.  

A question posed by the US to the Special Rapporteur is:   Anti-trafficking strategies should be comprehensively integrated into humanitarian efforts. How does Special Rapporteur Giammarinaro believe we can raise awareness within the humanitarian community about the risks and consequences of human trafficking?

A prior report on trafficking focused on countries in conflict.  While not experiencing civil war, the US is now sharply divided. No word has come from the Trump administration on the either the visit or the issue.  

November 25, 2016 in Trafficking | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Is Grocery Shopping Supporting Labor Trafficking?

The next time you sit down to dinner, will you wonder if the food you are eating was produced as a result of U.S. labor trafficking? Consumers often are unwitting supporters of labor traffickers.

This summer the Ohio chicken industry was the focus of a labor trafficking raid.  In July, a chicken farm in Marion, Ohio was raided and ten individuals were found to be living in deplorable conditions and working without pay.  The Guatemalan natives, eight minor teens, one only 14 years old, and two adults were smuggled into the U.S. by two traffickers, one Guatemalan and one Mexican man.  As is typical, the workers were brought into the U.S. with promises of work for pay.  The traffickers kept the workers' pay and used threats of physical harm to keep the workers silent.  The company, Trillium Farms, reported to have cooperated in planning the raid with the FBI, stated that it used outside labor contractors and was not aware that the workers were trafficked.  The two traffickers pleaded guilty to various crimes. The employer, Trillium Farms, has not been charged.

Trillium claims to be the largest egg farm corporation in the Ohio.  The company regularly advertises for work and directs applicants to its Human Resources department.  Reliance upon third parties to secure workers is not unusual in any industry, however.  In labor intensive ones, employers may use contractors as a way of avoiding liability for employing undocumented workers, but the scheme also permits slave trafficking to flourish.  Simply being unaware that employees are trafficked cannot be an acceptable defense.  When a company is unaware, that usually means that there is combination of lack of human trafficking training as a priority for all employees, and a "hands off" policy in terms of middle management interaction with those whom the contractors bring to work.

What we have not heard from Trillium is how the company will ensure that traffickers are not engaged in the future.

According to a government report issued this summer, only 15% of global trafficking convictions in 2014 involved labor trafficking.  Yet it is estimated that non-sex labor trafficking schemes far outweigh the number of sex trafficking ones in the number of individuals trafficked.  Something has to change in government's approach to prosecuting and ending labor trafficking.  A good beginning might be for U.S. corporations to be held strictly liable for the use of trafficked workers.  Corporate liability, along with the resulting publicity, might ensure hiring and supervision policies that effectively eliminate trafficked workers.  

Mitigating factors might be affirmative efforts by employers who discover trafficking to work with the government to free the individuals.  In addition, and more importantly to the workers, would be for the employers to provide employment and to obtain housing, documented status and other supports to those workers discovered to be slaves.  






September 22, 2015 in Margaret Drew, Trafficking | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Sex Work, Safety and The Spector of De-Criminalization

As a nation we need to decide if reducing prostitution is a societal goal.

The ACLU recently affirmed its position that prostitution should be decriminalized.   The organization supports decriminalization for sex between consenting adults.  I suspect that most would agree.  The position is not without controversy and criticism, however.  For those who advocate against violence, the solution is not simple.  After all, women are still battling the inevitable rape defense of "consent". 

In support of its position, the ACLU stated that while arresting prostitutes has been the policy for centuries, it has been ineffective in reducing prostitution.  If the goal is to reduce prostitution, what this position ignores is that while arresting sex-workers is and always has been an ineffective solution, what has not been consistently tested is a policy of arresting customers.  In fact, most district attorney's offices have a policy of not arresting or prosecuting customers, despite the fact that soliciting prostitution is a crime.  Any efforts at arresting customers typically have been temporary.   The policy of  arresting only the seller in the transaction historically has resulted in protecting men while making criminals of women.

Customers can be the knowing or unwitting promoters of human trafficking.  The idealization of the suburban housewife deciding on a sex work career or the college student looking for funds to pay for her education are sometimes true.  But many female sex workers are trafficked, enslaved and not independent in their work.  The younger the sex worker, the likelier she is trafficked.  Prior traumatization, including rape and incest, are common histories of sex workers.  Many have addictions compounding the issue of whether or not consent can be given.  "Consent" for many sex workers is not a realistic concept, yet lack of consent would be  nearly impossible to prove.   How are those being paid for sex to overcome a consent defense in a rape or assault and battery hearing? While the ACLU and others supporting decriminalization of consensual sex still endorse enforcement of anti-trafficking laws. One consequence of decriminalization will be enforcement of anti-trafficking laws primarily when minors are involved. Like statutory rape, another controversial concept, it is easier to prove crime based on age than other sex crimes.

Why individuals engage in sex work is not always straight forward. Certainly sex workers should not be arrested for their services.  Particularly those women who have been trafficked will be protected by decriminalizing the sale of sex.  Current laws re-victimize and re-traumatize trafficked victims who are then swept into the criminal justice system.

We do not know if trafficking will decrease if customers are arrested.   Sweden and some other countries have implemented customer arrest.  "Compelling evidence shows that across-the-board decriminalization supports sex trafficking without improving health, safety or control of organized crime, as demand for unsafe and dangerous sex rises exponentially. Decriminalization is a failed experiment" reports Max Waltman, a Ph. D. candidate at Stockholm University. Many disagree. While prostitution may be  in Sweden, we do not know if trafficking has been reduced.  And isn't trafficking and other forced prostitution the essential problem to be solved?

And what do sex-workers say?  Some independent sex workers favor decriminalization. Others worry that decriminalization will lead to customers being more abusive.  They argue that if the purchase of sex services is decriminalized, the abused sex worker will effectively have no recourse.  Police and prosecutors will find it nearly impossible to prosecute abuse perpetrated by a customer.  While assault and battery will remain a crime, the customer's saying that the abuse was bargained for will be difficult to disprove.  But the threat or risk of a customer being arrested might at least give the sex worker some control over a customer's behavior.  The power imbalance needs to shift from the customer to the sex worker if the workers are to attain any level of safety.    At the moment, we have no remedies in place that empower the workers. 

Remedies are complex.  Cultural shifts need to occur before sex workers gain courtroom and popular credibility.  Before comprehensive decriminalization occurs, there must be assurances that effective systems are in place to protect abused sex workers and those who are in the profession involuntarily.  The solutions are not going to be as straightforward as  whether to decriminalize or not. 



September 16, 2015 in Margaret Drew, Trafficking | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Human Trafficking, Survivors, and Social Science Research

 by Jonathan Todres

 Human trafficking is a gross violation of human rights. We know that victims and survivors experience physical, psychological, and emotional harm.  Yet on August 18, 2015, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit overturned a trafficker’s conviction for “possession and use of a firearm in relation to a crime of violence,” when the crime in question was sex trafficking (U.S. vs. German de Jesus Ventura).

 The relevant statutory language defines a “crime of violence” as “an offense that is a felony and—(A) has as an element the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force against the person or property of another, or (B) that by its nature, involves a substantial risk that physical force against the person or property of another may be used in the course of committing the offense.” 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(3).  The Fourth Circuit concluded that sex trafficking does not meet the requirements of section (A) because it can be committed “nonviolently—i.e., through fraudulent means.”  As to section (B), the court stated first that “the relevant inquiry is whether there is a substantial risk that the defendant will use physical force against the victim in completing the crime” (as opposed to any other individual, say a purchaser of sex). And then the court concludes – in a footnote – that “we are not persuaded that the ordinary case of sex trafficking by force, fraud, or coercion involves a substantial risk that the defendant will use physical force as a means to commit the offense.” The Fourth Circuit doesn’t cite to any research in support of this conclusion. In fact, research suggests that the great majority of trafficking victims suffer physical injuries (On health consequences, see, for example, C. Zimmerman et al.; Todres).

This opinion is reminiscent of the Ninth Circuit’s opinion in U.S v. Castaneda (239 F.3d 978 (9th Cir. 2001)). In that case, three Filipina women who were lured to Saipan under false pretenses found themselves in a foreign country with little or no money and the legality of their presence in country tied to their place of employment. The women were forced by their employer to provide sex to men in a night club. Yet the Ninth Circuit questioned whether these women were coerced, noting “there wasn’t a gun put to their head,” and that they weren’t forced to line up for selection by male customers but only “instructed” to do so.

 In these and other cases, courts fail to understand the experience of trafficking victims and other survivors of human rights violations. That Ventura will be left with a 30-year sentence, even after his Section 924(c) conviction is vacated isn’t a satisfactory answer. Why are courts failing to see the experience of victims of human rights violations for what it is? There may be a host of reasons, from deficiencies in the evidence presented to implicit bias.  Whatever the reason, social science offers a potential answer: it can provide evidence-based research that can demonstrate the likelihood of physical violence by traffickers, or the impact of trauma might have on a victim’s decisions whether or not a gun is put to her head.

Many cases have benefitted from such evidence, dating back to the experiments of Drs. Kenneth and Mamie Clark in Brown v. Board of Education, and even earlier. Human rights advocates, and the populations they represent, would be well served by forging more partnerships with social science to ensure future courts cannot ignore the true experience of those who suffer human rights violations.


September 9, 2015 in Jonathan Todres, Trafficking | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Human Rights, Human Trafficking and Global Supply Chains

Jonathan Todres' post on 2/3/15 observed that Congress' willingness to enact  anti-human trafficking legislation is, to all effects, a human rights victory, though Congress has not embraced human rights language to describe these efforts.

Still, language does matter, and it is worth noting that while members of Congress have not framed the trafficking issue in human rights terms, the Administration has.   Speaking in 2012, President Obama stated that "[o]ur fight against human trafficking is one of the great human rights causes of our time."  And in a speech  and summit meeting last week marking National Human Slavery and Trafficking Prevention Month, Secretary of State John Kerry drew explicit connections between human rights, human trafficking and the global supply chains that enable labor exploitation.  

In his January 29 speech, Secretary Kerry announced that in 2015, the Administration would focus its anti-trafficking efforts on supply chains.  And the State Department honored the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and its Fair Food Campaign with a Presidential Award. Secretary Kerry particularly cited the Coalition's "extraordinary efforts to combat human trafficking by pioneering the Fair Food Program, empowering agricultural workers, and leveraging market forces and consumer awareness to promote supply chain transparency and eradicate modern slavery on participating farms."  On the same day, the Administration finalized new anti-trafficking rules that increase the accountability of government contractors for human trafficking and monitoring. According to one legal analysis, these rules -- praised by advocates -- pose significant new burdens on federal contractors.

Human trafficking and global supply chains has been on the UN human rights agenda for a number of years.  While Congress may not be quite ready to address these issues squarely as human rights issues, the Administration should be given credit for making explicit the connections between human rights, the global supply chain and human trafficking. 

February 4, 2015 in Global Human Rights, Martha F. Davis, Trafficking | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Why Preventing Human Trafficking Sounds a Lot like Human Rights Advocacy

Jonathan Todres

Human trafficking is a hot topic on Capitol Hill.  In January, the House passed 12 human trafficking bills.  While it’s impossible to provide in-depth analysis of every bill in this brief essay, this wave of legislation merits significant attention because it signals a shift in approach to this grave violation of human rights.

The current U.S. response to human trafficking started with the adoption of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act in 2000.  Since then, the TVPA has since been reauthorized four times, other federal legislation has been passed, and all 50 states have adopted anti-trafficking legislation.  For much of this time, criminal law centered measures have predominated.  This is understandable in many respects, as human trafficking is a serious crime, and criminal law responses have the added benefit of building on an existing criminal justice system. In more recent years, legislation has also focused on services for trafficking survivors. 

 This year’s wave of legislation reflects a growing understanding both that a comprehensive multi-sector response is necessary and that we need to prevent these harms from occurring and not only pursue perpetrators and assist victims after the harm has occurred. Several bills reflect this shift.

 H.R. 350 – the Human Trafficking Prevention, Intervention, and Recovery Act of 2015 – would mandate evidence-based research on prevention strategies with a view to identifying best practices.  Other bills seek to move response efforts in the direction of earlier intervention by focusing attention on the role of the child welfare system and health care professionals (a full list of the bills is below).

Many of these bills touch upon issues that are at the core of human rights advocacy, including health care, housing, education, and social services. Given the current political climate, it’s not surprising that they have not been presented as human rights responses to human trafficking.  Yet it’s worth noting that the broader approach evidenced in the 12 bills passed by a Republican-led House of Representatives echo what human rights advocates have said for many years:  rights—including the right to live free from exploitation—are interdependent; and reducing vulnerability to harms such as human trafficking requires a comprehensive approach that recognizes both the rights of all and all rights of every individual.

This is not to say, of course, that human rights advocates would embrace every provision of all 12 bills. I have my own concerns about certain proposed steps and about what is left out of some bills. But that debate is for another column. As a starting point, this series of bills should prompt advocates on all points of the political spectrum to realize that preventing exploitation of vulnerable individuals requires a comprehensive approach that addresses the root causes of these harms, something human rights has long called for.


  1. H.R. 181 –      Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act of 2015, as amended (Sponsored      by Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX) & Carolyn Maloney (D-NY))
  2. H.R. 159 –      Stop Exploitation Through Trafficking Act of 2015, as      amended (Sponsored by Rep. Erik Paulsen (R-MN) & Gwen Moore      (D-WI))
  3. H.R. 469 –      Strengthening Child Welfare Response to Trafficking Act of      2015 (Sponsored by Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA))
  4. H.R. 350 –      Human Trafficking Prevention, Intervention, and Recovery Act of      2015 (Sponsored by Rep. Kristi Noem (R-SD) & Doris Matsui (D-CA))
  5. H.R. 468 –      Enhancing Services for Runaway and Homeless Victims for Youth Trafficking      Act of 2015 (Sponsored by Rep. Joe Heck (R-NV))
  6. H.R. 246 –      To improve the response to victims of child sex trafficking (Sponsored      by Rep. Joyce Beatty (D-OH))
  7. H.R. 398 –      Trafficking Awareness Training for Health Care Act of 2015 (Sponsored      by Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-NC) & Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL))
  8. H.R. 460 –      Human Trafficking Detection Act of 2015 (Sponsored by Rep. Mark      Walker (R-NC))
  9. H.R. 285 –      Stop Advertising Victims of Exploitation Act of 2015 (Sponsored by      Rep. Ann Wagner (R-MO))
  10. H.R. 514 –      Human Trafficking Prioritization Act (Sponsored by Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ))
  11. H.R. 515 –      International Megan’s Law to Prevent Demand for Child Sex      Trafficking (Sponsored by Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ))
  12. H.R. 357 –      Human Trafficking Prevention Act (Sponsored by Rep. Sean Patrick      Maloney (D-NY))


February 3, 2015 in Jonathan Todres, Trafficking | Permalink | Comments (1)