God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them. --Genesis 1:27
You shall not withhold the wages of poor and needy laborers, whether other Israelites or aliens who reside in your land in one of your towns. --Deuteronomy 24:14
Labor Trafficking: Modern-day Slavery
Human trafficking, also known as modern-day slavery, refers to the use of force, coercion, fraud, or abduction to exploit a person for profit. Victims of human trafficking are subjected to labor and/or sexual exploitation that may take many forms including debt bondage, forced labor, domestic servitude, sexual abuse of children for profit, prostitution, pornography, bride trafficking, and child soldiering.
Each year some 14,000 to 18,000 persons are trafficked into the United States. These trafficked children of God are denied their liberty and freedom to make choices. Their potential for fullness of life, as envisioned by God for all God’s people, is taken away. Trafficking denies the value of human life and endangers the physical and mental well-being of victims. It is a crime against humanity and ultimately a sin.
In 2009, General Synod XXVII approved a resolution, A Call to Awareness and Action to End the Practice of Trafficking in Persons that called all settings of the UCC to “engage in education about the issue of trafficking in persons and advocacy efforts to end this criminal and abusive practice.”
Two years later in 2011, General Synod XXVIII met with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), a group of farm workers based in Immokalee, FL, who seek dignity, and improved wages and working conditions in the fields. The CIW reported that “modern-day slavery continues to be a problem in the agricultural industry today.”
The most important kinds of labor trafficking are forced labor and debt bondage.
A victim of forced labor is made to work, often under conditions that violate U.S. labor laws, with restricted freedom and without freely-given consent. Victims of forced labor work under threat of punishment and/or violence. Forced labor can take the form of domestic servitude; agricultural labor; sweatshop factory labor; janitorial, food service and other service industry labor; and forced begging.
Often individuals become victims of labor trafficking due to deception or coercion. Victims of debt bondage (also called bonded labor) are enslaved and required to work as a form of repayment for a loan or service (such as transportation) whose terms and conditions were not clearly defined at the time the agreement was made. In other cases, the value of the victim’s labor is not accurately applied to the repayment of the debt. The work that individuals perform while in bondage often exceeds the amount of their “loan” or the value of the service received.
Immigrants are especially susceptible to labor trafficking because of language barriers, lack of familiarity with U.S. laws and institutions, and concerns about deportation if they contact authorities.
Five Things You Can Do to End Human Trafficking
The UCC has worked with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers on issues of labor trafficking in agriculture. Nonetheless, while many people know that farm workers suffer from poor working conditions and poverty-level wages, few realize that they may also be victims of modern-day slavery and labor trafficking.
Creating change is not as simple as boycotting a specific supermarket or brand of produce. The Coalition of Immokalee Workers has learned that the best way to eliminate slavery in U.S. agriculture is to enlist the power of corporation that purchase large quantities of agricultural products. These companies set the specifications for the products they buy, for example, the size, color, and price of the tomatoes. These firms also have the power to specify acceptable pay and working conditions in the fields. They could halt the use of forced labor. Consumers, through their buying power, have the ability to pressure corporations to take on these new responsibilities. Now we need to do it. Our purchases must not facilitate and perpetuate these abuses.
- Educate yourself about the issue (See Additional Resource below).
- Consult the most recent information and explore the outcomes of real cases and efforts to help trafficked persons. (See Additional Resource below)
- Invite a speaker to come to your church to start discussing the issue in your community.
- Read the Coalition of Immokalee Workers’ anti-slavery webpage.
- As people of faith, we recognize the profound power of prayer in all things. Pray for trafficked persons, for all who work to assist trafficked person, for those who work to prevent human trafficking, for traffickers to cease their practice, and for a global economy that promotes human well-being.
- Congregations can observe National Human Trafficking Awareness Day on the Sunday closest to January 11th each year.
3. Engage with your community
- Spread awareness: plan an educational workshop, show a movie on trafficking, start a book group, or invite a speaker to your church or a community gathering.
- Educate children and youth about human trafficking and modern-day slavery.
- Support state legislation to protect minors as victims.
- Support social service organizations working in your community to prevent human trafficking or support survivors. Find out what anti-trafficking groups are doing to raise awareness in your area.
- Participate in Labor Sunday (and Labor in the Pulpits resources) and lift up trafficked workers.
4. Take Action
- Learn what is happening in your community and state and support efforts to end trafficking.
- Partner with experienced social service, legal and government entities to assist trafficked persons. Don’t do it alone; you can be more harmful than helpful.
- Support reauthorization and strengthening of the federal Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA).
- Research your own state laws on human trafficking. There are still states without legislation to prohibit and punish human trafficking and many laws are in need of reform. Determine whether these laws fully protect the rights of people who have been trafficked.
- Contact your federal and state elected representatives, and social service and law enforcement agencies. Let them know that you care about this issue.
- Congregations can work with local offices of the U.S. Department of Justice Human Trafficking Taskforce or the U.S. Health and Human Services Rescue and Restore Coalition to create emergency housing and provide jobs for survivors of human trafficking. Do not do this alone, work with trained professionals.
5. Keep trafficked persons involved in the decisions-making
- Do not coerce trafficked persons into accepting help they do not want but explain their options, and be available for them to contact you in the future.
- Do not allow your desire to protect trafficked persons override their right to make choices about their own life and situation.
- For guidelines in respecting the human rights of children who require additional protections given their age, consult UNICEF.
- The Slave Next Door: Human Trafficking and Slavery in America Today, Kevin Bales and Ron Soodalter, University of California Press, 2010
- Disposable People: New Slavery in the Global Economy by Kevin Bales.
- Nobodies: Modern Slave Labor and the Dark Side of the New Global Economy, John Bowe, Random House, 2007.
- The War on Human Trafficking: US Policy Assessed, Anthony M. DeStefano, Rutgers University Press, 2007.
- Not for Sale: The Return of the Global Slave Trade -- And How We Can Fight It, by David Batstone, HarperOne, 2001.
- Ending Slavery: How Do We Free Today’s Slaves, by Kevin Bales, University of California Press, Berkeley, CA, 2007. A guide for individuals and organizations who want to become part of the solution to ending human trafficking.
- National Human Trafficking Resource center and 24 hour, toll-free, multilingual anti-trafficking hotline: 1-888-3737-888. Call to report a tip (do not investigate yourself), connect with anti-trafficking services in your area, or request training and technical assistance, general information or specific anti-trafficking resources.