No one can tell the story of human trafficking better than a survivor can. Please do yourself and these human beings a favor and spend a few minutes listening to their voices.
Thank you CAST LA for the incredible work you do.
No one can tell the story of human trafficking better than a survivor can. Please do yourself and these human beings a favor and spend a few minutes listening to their voices.
Thank you CAST LA for the incredible work you do.
Christian Science Monitor has been working on a fascinating project to analyze best-practices in combatting human trafficking and recently put together a list of 6 innovative and effective solutions. Check them out here!
By: Michael Holtz of the Christian Science Monitor
January 25, 2016
Farm workers in Immokalee, Fla., have pushed corporations such as Walmart to submit to “clean labor” audits to cut down on the exploitation of largely Mexican, Haitian, and Guatemalan migrants. Their efforts have helped spur the use of “Fair Food” labels for produce that is grown and packed ethically.
“In the past three years, [the tomato fields in Immokalee] have gone from being the worst to the best” in the country, according to Susan Marquis, dean of the Pardee RAND Graduate School in Santa Monica, Calif.
Last fall, Giant and Stop & Shop, two grocery chains in New England, began carrying the label. Similar labels such as “Food Justice Certified,” which expands farm worker protections to organic products, are also beginning to crop up on supermarket shelves across the country.
Such sourcing clues tap directly into the portion of the US consumer base that has begun to turn once routine shopping decisions into moral guideposts. Labor experts see a lot of promise in using labels as a tool to spread the reforms seen in Immokalee to other agricultural centers around the US.
One of the biggest challenges human trafficking victims face is what to do once they’re back on their own.
In Thailand, the Issara Institute helps formerly enslaved migrant workers by directly giving them cash with no strings attached. The philosophy behind the program is simple: No one knows the needs of human trafficking victims better than the victims themselves. Yet they often lack the resources to address them. By giving them the ability to make their own decisions, the unconditional handouts provide a sense of autonomy that these individuals haven’t experienced in months, if not years.
Across the United States, a handful of nonprofit organizations are working to connect with isolated domestic servants to show them that help is available.
Damayan Migrant Workers Association, a grass-roots group in New York that assists Filipino trafficking victims, provides a model for how to transform a cycle of victimization. Former victims become advocates for others, demanding changes to legal and economic structures that facilitate the trafficking of domestic workers. They also formed a co-op, allowing the former victims to become their own bosses.
They have pressured embassies when diplomatic immunity was shielding traffickers from prosecution, and have helped some women win financial settlements. Damayan’s members played a key role in New York becoming the first of several states to pass a Domestic Workers Bill of Rights.
A small antitrafficking team in Seattle is showing how legal action can be an effective tool in fighting forced labor when detectives, prosecutors, and social workers learn to collaborate.
In its first decade of operations, the task force investigated more than 140 cases of potential human trafficking and prosecuted 60 of those. Given the difficulty of bringing such cases, this is well above average for a prosecutorial district. In September, Attorney General Loretta Lynch called the task force an “extraordinary partnership.”
Experts say the force’s success stems from its ability to bridge the worlds of nongovernment organizations and diverse law enforcement agencies. Where antitrafficking efforts in some other cities have broken down, the members of this team “have come back to the table” after setbacks, says Kirsten Foot, the author of “Collaborating Against Human Trafficking.”
In February 2015, a federal court awarded five Indian workers $14 million in a labor trafficking lawsuit against Signal International, a maritime construction company, for abuses they faced while repairing offshore oil and gas facilities damaged by hurricane Katrina.
Five months later, Signal filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection to implement a $20 million settlement with more than 200 other workers who had their own lawsuits pending. It was, lawyers say, the largest monetary penalty ever in a labor trafficking lawsuit, making it a model for how to fight labor trafficking – both in the courtroom and out.
In Mexico and the US, advocates say abuses that can add up to trafficking in the agriculture industry often go unchecked because foreign workers are required to leave the United States at the end of each season. Back home, they are far away from the US legal system that might help them push for justice against abusive or exploitive employers.
To correct this, lawyers, NGOs, government representatives, and migrant advocates have worked together pursue cross-border justice. This includes finding plaintiffs in Mexico and other countries willing to testify in US courts; many don’t know that they are entitled to legal recourse. The work is painstaking and time-consuming, but provides a path to reducing labor trafficking and migrant worker exploitation.
From Silicon Valley to the Central Valley, California industries rely on about 130,000 foreign guest workers to do everything from tech jobs to picking grapes, peaches, and almonds. Three out of four of them are hired through labor contractors, according to rough estimates. A new law has the potential to transform the way those contractors do business – and protect vulnerable workers.
The California Foreign Labor Recruitment Law, the first of its kind in the nation, requires recruiters to meet certain conditions and register with the state. Taking effect in July, it forces businesses that want to use foreign-labor contractors to work with only those that are registered, and to tell the state which contractors they are using. It provides a host of protections for workers, including a rule against charging them any fees.
“People should be able to look up in a registry who is legitimate and who isn’t,” says Kay Buck, executive director of the Coalition to Abolish Slavery & Trafficking in Los Angeles. “With transparency, the prevalence of modern slavery decreases.”
A cluster of California class-action lawsuits against corporations such as Costco is pushing the envelope on accountability for human trafficking in supply chains. The keyword is transparency: If companies are forced to disclose when labor abuses are involved in making a product, they may be more likely to vigorously police their suppliers.
That level of disclosure would go significantly beyond the letter of a 2010 law. The California Transparency in Supply Chains Act requires large retail and manufacturing companies to disclose on their websites what, if anything, they are doing to eradicate trafficking and slavery among suppliers.
In the global cocoa industry, efforts to clean up supply chains have already helped address widespread child labor abuses. Each of the world’s top five chocolate producers – from Nestlé to Mars to Hershey’s – are developing or expanding third-party inspection systems meant to, among other goals, eliminate child trafficking and child labor by 2020 on the farms where they source cocoa.
Meanwhile, Ghana and Cote D’Ivoire – together responsible for about 70 percent of global cocoa output – have responded to international pressure by passing laws prohibiting child trafficking and overwork, and mandating primary school attendance.
By: Izzy Ullmann
The human trafficking story in Panama is one I have heard before, but never officially: human trafficking does not exist. According to Jenise Lawrence*, an American attorney working to combat human trafficking in Panama, this is the story that the government puts out.
And yet, the US 2015 Annual Trafficking in Persons Report reports Panama as a source, transit, and destination country for primarily sex, but also labor trafficking.
I sat down with Jenise Lawrence* in Panama City to learn about the dynamics that she has noted working on this issue (almost solely in the country). As she explained, prostitution in Panama is legal above the age of 18, thus easing traffickers’ ability to sell their victims. About 80% of those trafficked into the sex trade are from Latin America and the Caribbean. Many are brought through a specific visa program, called alternadora, which the US House Committee on Foreign Affairs explains specifically allows foreign national women to work in entertainment establishments [Read more here]. In a leaked report of the US Trafficking in Persons Office’s visit to Panama in 2006, Attorney General Ana Matilde Gomez emphatically stated her distaste for what she deemed, “the alternadora visa for prostitutes,” and wished to speak to the president about abolishing the visa program. According to Lawrence, however, 12 years later the visa is still being used rampantly.
As Lawrence explained, different mafias control much of the sex industry, which serves as one of the primary reasons that the government is paralyzingly tentative to intervene. She mapped out for me the domains of mafia- controlled prostitution.
Venezuelans and Columbians exert a great degree of control over the sex industry in Panama City and the Colón Free Trade Zone. In the Chinese community, there are a few families with concentrated power. These families go to China and bring back people who are willing to be indentured servants. They are then brought to work in Chinito stores for no pay and are provided housing above or behind the shops, subject to debt bondage. As the Russian embassy has gained in power in Panama, there has additionally been an increased presence of the Russian mafia bringing eastern European girls to the country for trafficked prostitution.
As she described it, human trafficking exists as a pretty well organized criminal network. The industry has been working to improve its sex-tourism, and has coordinated taxi drivers and hotel managers and staff to direct wealthy businessmen to prostitutes, all the while making a cut of the profits.
In 2014, Panama’s Ministry of Tourism launched a measly effort to raise awareness about human trafficking with posters in the airport, but this was the extent of the campaign. It was catalyzed by a scandal in which a Columbian couple was caught kidnapping children, killing them, and selling their organs. This enraged people in Panama City where the scandal occurred, and provided fuel for the campaign, but the charges “mysteriously” were dropped and neither of the couple was prosecuted.
This reflects a much larger issue that Panama faces of a debauched legal system. Due process is typically nonexistent and according to several locals, the corrupt police force accept bribes for most crimes. Lawrence explained that along the Columbian border, the Panamanian guards are being constantly paid off by the Columbian traffickers to ensure that they do not expose the criminals.
Another issue that feeds into the exploitation of humans is Panama’s identity as a destination and transit country for immigration. Because of its relatively stable economy, the World Bank calculated the net migration to Panama in 2012 as about 28,105, which (factoring in those that are emigrating from the country) comes to about 100 people immigrating into Panama per day. According to Lawrence, about 60% of them plan to stay, while 40% are headed towards Mexico or the United States. Despite this high number of incomers, Lawrence explains that Panama only has two official shelters for incoming migrants: one which hosts 25 women, and another which holds 65 men. When these shelters reach capacity, government officials drive immigrants in cattle trucks to a central location where they are dumped and told they have 48 hours to leave the country. According to Lawrence, “The problem is so overwhelming to the government.” She continued, “[Immigrants] are not allowed to settle. They are all illegal but the country does not know what to do. The people do not have papers for Panama, they are not allowed to go into Costa Rica or any other country that would allow them transit through Panama or to stay in Panama, and Panama does not have the resources to send them back to their country of origin.” And few people do leave immediately. Many of these people are expertly linked into underground networks of trafficking, especially for sex.
With limited border patrol, trafficking a person into the country is fairly easy. Lawrence explained that people are trafficked over the Columbian border, through the airports, and in cargo ships through the Panama Canal. She described a survivor from Malaysia who she’d met in an orphanage who had escaped her container on a ship and swam to the edge of the Canal to freedom.
But it is not just foreign nationals; Panamanians are being trafficked too. Lawrence told me a story about two indigenous girls who were simply riding in a taxi one day and were kidnapped by their taxi driver, taken to the border where they were raped and drugged and then forced to work in a push button hotel [essentially a secret room with a menu of women who you can purchase at an hourly rate]. Below is a pretty gross video about push buttons.
While the US Trafficking in Persons Report for the past 10 or so years has placed Panama as Tier 2, and commended it for some steps towards combatting trafficking, Lawrence explains how each of Panama’s supposed efforts are moot. The 2015 TIP report says that in 2014, “authorities investigated 11 new trafficking cases, four for sex trafficking and seven for labor trafficking,” and has reported back similar numbers in the 2008, 2011, and 2014 reports, but according to Lawrence, “not one person has been prosecuted.” She explained that the judicial system and enforcement of component of law enforcement is essentially nonexistent. This sentiment was reinforced by many people I spoke to in Panama. The 2015 report also details a “dedicated helpline for reporting human trafficking cases,” but Lawrence counters that, “in reality, there is no phone number or anyone dedicated to the hotline, and if there was, I am sure they were not trained correctly.”
But underlying this slew of issues, Lawrence explains that there is a general apathy about human trafficking. Most people do not know it exists, and those that do are are plagued by the its-not-my-problem mentality. This blockades the serious action needed.
From mafia-controlled areas of the country to an overwhelming immigration problem to an uncoordinated and corrupt justice system to an apathetic public, Panama sure has a lot of issues on its hands. But they do seem solvable. Awareness needs to be raised more fully, especially in schools so that students know about the potential risks that could befall them. And the judicial and legal systems need to be made more accountable, through police trainings, crackdowns on corruption, and instilling an attitude of responsibility among law enforcement and justice officials.
Contrary to public knowledge, human trafficking exists in Panama. Foreigners like Lawrence could continue to enter the country and try to determine ways of combatting the human slavery, but the Panamanian people ultimately need to figure out how to improve their own system to eradicate this problem and protect their citizens and immigrants.
Read more about Panama’s human trafficking via The Protection Project’s report.
*name has been changed for anonymity to allow her to maintain legal status in the country
Last month, I had the honor to meet with two different Jerusalem-based organizations that address human trafficking in Israel. Mihal Leibel who heads the Task Force on Human Trafficking of Atzum and Shari Eshet, the director of the Israel office of the National Coalition of Jewish Women briefed
me on the issues and efforts going on in the
For the 4th year in a row, Israel has ranked a tier 1 on the US State Department TIP Report — a significant victory in the anti-trafficking efforts going on in the country, but the story is much more complicated than that. Just a little over 10 years ago, Israel was shocked into action by their status as tier 3 on the TIP report and the possibility of sanctions. They illegalized human trafficking, set up state-funded safe shelters around the country, and set a 16-year prison sentence for exploiters.
In Israel, part of the legal definition of trafficking requires cross-border movement. Because of Israel’s very strong borders, legally defined trafficking as suffered extreme losses. As Mihal Leibel, from Atzum noted, “Israel is like an island– it is relatively easy to control its borders,” unlike many countries in which fluid borders exacerbate issues of human trafficking. The fence erected in 2013 on the Egyptian border was a major step in definitively reducing (and almost completely eliminating) illegal immigration (and thus trafficking) from Africa. Using the legal definition of trafficking, Israeli lawyers have been able to prosecute the cases of the over 50,000 Eritrean refugees that escaped to Israel from torture camps where they were held for ransom in the Sinai before the fence was built.
Yet despite the crackdown on international trafficking, what both Mihal and Shari Eshet, of the National Coalition of Jewish Women, explained to me is the prevalence of “local prostitution.” It may not be considered human trafficking by the legal definition, but it is prevalent and exploitative. The penal code in Israel legalizes prostitution and the buying of sex, but it deems illegal pimping, procuring, pandering, promoting prostitution, or owning a brothel. Mihal argues that in defining them in two separate contexts, the law essentially creates a moral judgment– deeming in-country “prostitution” as not as bad as “human trafficking,” regardless of their comparable effects. The long term effects of cross-border sex trafficking and local prostitution are similar: PTSD, disassociation, violence (a prostitute is 200x more likely to be raped than the average citizen), and death.
It is always hard to hone in on specific demographics of those vulnerable to prostitution and those buying their services, but Mihal and Shari both helped lay out some of the basics. Three main characteristics, when in combination, make a person vulnerable to prostitution: 1) previous sexual trauma, 2) parental neglect (especially when it leads to becoming a runaway), 3) poverty. Those buying sex in set aside venues (ie. ‘massage parlors’ and brothels) range from Russian immigrants to ultra orthodox Jews. When there is a demand, the industry provides. As Mihal sarcastically noted, there is no fear of people being trafficked into oncology or law, but a demand for prostitutes open the doors for exploitative provision of services.
There has been a strong move in Israel in the last couple years, spearheaded by Atzum’s Task Force on Human Trafficking, to embrace the Nordic model which would criminalize the purchase of sexual services. This would reduce the demand and attack commercial sexual exploitation as both an economic and a social phemoninon. This has not been embraced all around, though, for some organizations (including the National Council of Jewish Women) worry that it infringes upon sex workers rights.
The conversation continues about who is to be blamed, who is to be considered a victim, which organizations are to be supported, and where the legal system needs to intercede, but it is encouraging to know that Israeli political, legal, and nongovernmental entities are fully engaged in that conversation and are working to make the country one where exploitation does not reign.
Go check them out at: http://www.heat-watch.org
In 2012, California’s state legislature passed SB 1193 with the understanding that one of the key perpetuators of human trafficking is the blatant lack of access to resources by people who are currently being trafficking and for those witnessing trafficking. The law essentially mandates that certain businesses and other establishments must have information about human trafficking resources and the Polaris Project Hotline number (1-888-3737-888) in a clearly visible place, so that whoever may need the information can access it.
I have spoken with several organizations that have vouched for the effectiveness of this bill, when implemented. Notably, there has been an increasing rate of survivors self-reporting to the hotline in the past few years. This is crucial in empowering those who see no way out of a system.
Great idea! The problem? A blatant lack of education (to businesses) and enforcement (by law enforcement).
That is where California’s human trafficking organizations have come in. This week, I connected UC Berkeley students and other members of the Berkeley community with the Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley’s office, and with our joined people power and expertise, we hit the streets of Oakland, Hayward, Berkeley, Alameda, San Leandro, Fremont, Dublin, and Pleasanton. In teams of two, we informed owners of the mandated establishments (mainly bars, massage parlors, urgent care centers, and hospitals with emergency rooms) about the law and supervised them as they posted it in plain view for their customers and employees.
Business owners were overwhelmingly receptive to the law—they had just never heard about it before and were concerned by the $500 penalty for non-compliance. Yet when we reassured them that we were not citing them, but rather inviting them to join us in the fight against human trafficking, the attitudes changed. Community outreach is imperative to attacking this issue from all sides.
If you are interested in doing outreach in your city (in Alameda County), I will attach the document and map that we worked with and you can add to the effort by visiting the non-visited businesses with the poster (available for download here).
Furthermore, if you live in a county outside of Alameda, and are interested in the joining the effort to spread the knowledge about this law, you can use this amazing resource put out by California’s Attorney General Kamala Harris which outlines how to find mandated businesses in your area.
I recently gave a quasi- Ted Talk on the catalysts that have motivated me towards fighting human trafficking and the elements that have continued to drive me through this abolitionist world. It sparked an amazing conversation on the motivations of anger–I essentially argued that it is anger and personal connection that tie me to the issue… but it is interesting to ponder whether someone can be moved to action by an emotion other than anger.
The Polaris Project, a phenomenal DC-based anti-trafficking organization (which also happens to be the coordinator of the human trafficking hotline –888 37373 888) just launched an amazing new program called the Global Modern Slavery Directory–read this letter from the CEO and check out the program!!
This past weekend California Governor Jerry Brown signed into law a whole slew of forward thinking legislation—from a ban on plastic bags, addressing the mounting issue of environmental degradation, to the Yes Means Yes law, regarding sexual assault, to seven, I repeat SEVEN new pieces of legislation furthering the state’s stance against human trafficking. These laws increase the rights of victims, the penalties of those hurting them, and the resources for preventing trafficking in the first place.
One law, SB 1165, allows for sexual abuse sex trafficking prevention education to be implemented in schools and requires that it be included in the Health Framework for Public Schools. Love Never Fails, a bay area- based anti trafficking organization, has already created a curriculum which they call “Love Don’t Hurt” centered around themes of abuse and are gearing up to include the new aspects provided for in this bill.
Another incredibly important bill, which acts as a deterrent against labor trafficking, is SB 477. It requires foreign labor contractors (the middle men between foreign laborers and their potential bosses) to register with the Labor Commissioner before hiring any day laborers or migrant workers, etc. They must provide the commissioner with certain information as well as a fee that would cover any transgressions of the rest of the bill. The contractor is also required to disclose certain information to the foreign laborer, regarding the laborer’s rights, the specifications of the work contract, information about the employer, and an itemized list of expenses. The contractor is prohibited from changing the contract without the laborer’s complete understanding and consent, charging the laborer any additional fees, especially prior to working, or charging the laborer housing fees above the comparable market price. If the contractor violates any of these provisions, he/she is liable to pay a fine and serve time in the county jail, as well as paying the laborers any damages and fees. As Senate Pro Tempe, the author of this bill (which is actually a revision of last years SB 517 which Governor Brown vetoed) noted, “We’ve heard many horror stories of foreign workers who obtain visas and are recruited by foreign labor contractors to work here, only to become victims of abusive working conditions. Those workers often find themselves in what amounts to indentured servitude as well, as they’re forced to pay-off excessive ‘recruitment’ fees. These tougher regulations will help protect these hardworking men and women from human trafficking and other abuses.” CAST LA points out that 14% of the nation’s temporary foreign workers reside in California, making up 130,000 undocumented workers. This law will protect their rights and ensure that they are not trafficked into an abusive system. As California hosts three of the top 13 US cities for Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children (San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego), it was imperative that some of the legislation revolve around this aspect of the crime. Both SB 1388 and AB 1791 increase the penalities for crimes committed against minors, including the solicitation of a minor prostitute. Furthermore, AB 1585 increases the rights of victims of human trafficking convicted of prostitution—allowing them to petition the court to eliminate their conviction by proving that it was the result trafficking situation. It is true that California is permeated with the horrors of human trafficking, in every industry, yet our legislature have begun to truly see combatting modern day slavery as a priority, and are committed to letting their votes count.
Here is the complete list of this week’s anti-trafficking legislation, as taken directly from Governor Jerry Brown’s website:
“SACRAMENTO – Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr. today signed legislation to better protect victims of human trafficking and bills to support education, prevention and law enforcement efforts to fight trafficking.
The Governor signed the following bills today:
For full text of the bills, visit: http://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov”
To read more about the passing of these bills, read these articles:
CBS Sacramento: Gov. Brown Signs Bills Upgrading Human Trafficking Laws
This summer, I have been interning for Santa Clara County Supervisor Cindy Chavez, researching for her newly formed Human Trafficking Commission. Yesterday, the first commission meeting was held and it was a major success. I am so humbled by the strength of anti-trafficking efforts in our county–from the VTA (or local transportation system), to the juvenile court system, to the sherif, to the Office of Women’s Policy, to the district attorney, the decision makers in our county are explicitly working to combat the rampancy of human trafficking in our midst.
The commissioners discussed their current efforts, including law enforcement protocols, the creation of awareness curriculum for middle and high school students, trainings of medical professionals, hotel owners, airport staff, a program which ensures that vulnerable youth on buses are protected and brought to a safe shelter, and so much more. They also discussed gaps that need to be filled, namely a significant dearth in data, lack of funding for victim services, and a gap in support for male victims (especially in regards to housing).
The work is already being done from so many different perspectives, but now the County is finally pulling together all of the entities fighting human trafficking to establish a strongly coordinated response to the atrocity.
Read the Mercury News article about the commission here.