Forced to Labor: The Cost of Coercion

May 14, 2009


WILLIAM VOCKE: Welcome to the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs. I'm William Vocke. I'm a Senior Fellow and a Senior Program Director here.

This is a Workshop for Ethics in Business. We're very, very pleased with this Workshop for Ethics in Business to be working with the International Labour Organization, the ILO, and I want to thank the ILO for putting together this panel.

The ILO has just released a major global report on forced labor, and I would encourage you to have an opportunity to look at that on their Web site, or perhaps get a copy of it.

The ILO, in conjunction with that, is doing a global photo exhibition. Here are some of the first photos from the Dominican Republic regarding forced labor. I'm not going to pass these around, but I would also encourage you to look at the ILO Web site, perhaps to have an opportunity to look at some of the photos from around the world regarding labor.

I want to particularly thank Kevin Cassidy. Kevin is the person that's responsible, along with David, for getting us together today.

And I want to make sure that we thank the ILO for the help they have done putting this panel together.

We have three distinguished panelists with us. We have an activist, we have someone who works in the international nongovernmental environment on these issues and has been central to the international attempt to regulate and mediate the issues around forced labor, and we have someone with the American government who has been prosecuting people involved in trafficking humans. 

I won't introduce them in any detail. You have in front of you a biography. I would encourage you to read that biography. You can see from the biography that these are distinguished and fascinating people.

So without further ado, I think we are going to start with Roger Plant from the International Labour Organization. Roger, please.


ROGER PLANT:Thank you very much, Mr. Vocke, and good afternoon, everybody. It's a great pleasure to be here.

I'd also like to express the thanks of the ILO to the Carnegie Council for giving us this venue.

We've been having a series of launches of our third global report on forced labor since 2001, the third over the past decade. On the 12th of May 2009, we had a major launch of this report in Geneva.

It's called "The Cost of Coercion." I want to explain briefly why we've chosen that title. I want to say that since its launch in our seven official languages of the UN system, it has had an enormous amount of coverage around the world. We're not surprised, when the press release says that over $20 billion is stolen from workers in forced labor situations.

But in my comments this afternoon I want to go beyond the figures. I want to go beyond the figures to the real human tragedy that this opportunity cost represents to the workers and their families and to society at large in terms of lost revenues.

But I also want to address some analogies between the extraordinary attention and publicity there has been to the global economic and financial crisis and to what we call an equally important simmering crisis on the world's labor markets, because there is a very serious challenge ahead of us now that we're finding across the world.

I have been around the world many times talking about these issues. The last time was a couple of weeks ago in Dubai, when I was asked by the government of the United Arab Emirates to give a public lecture on forced labor in a country where there has been very considerable criticism of the situation, the conditions of its migrant workers.

I think, before I say anything else, I should at least explain what our definition of "forced labor" is, because there has been a huge amount of attention to human trafficking. Now there is more and more attention to trafficking for labor exploitation and forced labor.

For the ILO, ever since we adopted our Fundamental Convention on this subject in 1930, we have defined "forced labor" as a situation where people get into work or service against their freedom of choice and they cannot get out of that without punishment or the threat of punishment, what we call "the menace of a penalty."

However, what we have been finding, particularly over the last few years, since we published our last global report, called "A Global Alliance Against Forced Labor," we've been finding more and more that there are very subtle ways in which people (men, women, and children) can be enticed into situations where they suffer very severe exploitation, which can in the worst cases amount to the criminal offense of forced labor in the sense of our conventions.

The other important thing that our Convention said in 1930—it has been ratified by 173 of our 182 Member States, so it enjoys almost universal ratification, though there are actually some exceptions (Canada, China, and the United States), which we may discuss later on—this also specifies that forced labor shall be treated as a serious criminal offense, adequate penalties should be laid down by law for dealing with this offense, and they should be strictly enforced.

So this is the issue: firstly, it is a crime in the same way that human trafficking for either sexual or labor exploitation is a crime, and a serious crime.

We're very honored. I think it's the third time I've shared a podium with Robert Moossy, who really is the foremost expert on this as the chief prosecutor in the Human Trafficking Division in the United States. It has to be prosecuted as a crime.

However, as Robert and I have very often discussed, there is a great dilemma, there is a problem, out there. We have estimated that there are 12.3 million victims of forced labor around the world, most of them in Asia, but also well over 350,000 in the industrialized countries.

We all know that forced labor is a very serious issue in the United States; in my own country, the United Kingdom, where all members of Parliament have just recognized the need yesterday for intensified action against modern slavery. So the moment is there.

But if you look at the statistics on prosecutions, they are absolutely tiny compared to the remedy. You will find, if you look at the last U.S. State Department report comparing trafficking for labor and sexual exploitation, particularly when we're dealing with trafficking for labor exploitation, there is very, very little law enforcement.

So we have a message in this report. I think this should be one of the main issues we discuss, how to move forward. We have a message that even though this is an issue, a matter of criminal justice, you've got to use other forms of law enforcement, you've got to find other remedies, you've got to find creative remedies, and no organizations are more important, either as early-warning systems to detect these complex problems of forced labor in the private economy, or using their own remedies, than the labor inspectors, Wages and Hours Division in this country, labor justice in its broad terms.

A second message, which we make very strongly in this report and I've been making strongly at other events in the United States and elsewhere—I can show you a handbook on "Combating Forced Labor: A Handbook for Employers and Business," which is going to be available to all you—is that 80 percent of all forced labor today is in the private economy, mainly in backward agriculture and in the informal economy, but it is more and more penetrating the supply chains and activities of major companies.

There is a whole range of different industries, ranging from electronics through to food processing and supermarkets. When this is the case, you simply must involve employers' organizations, business recruitment agencies, in action against forced labor.

And of course, our strength within the United Nations system is that we are a tripartite organization. That means that our governing body is 50 percent government, 25 percent employers, and 25 percent trade unions. You must always also mobilize the trade union movement. There is a lot that they can do.

Possibly the third message, which is related to this, is that I've said already that forced labor today, trafficking, debt bondage—these are very subtle issues which are very difficult to detect.

There are the most extreme cases when workers are in chains, workers are in locked factories, workers cannot escape, workers are forced to work for 18 hours a day seven days a week. I could cite many cases in Europe over the past few months, or several in Europe, and I'm sure that Robert Moossy could tell us of some, and I know some, in this country. But as we are recognizing more and more, modern forced labor tends to be wholesalers of deceptive and coercive mechanisms in order to extract unfair benefit from vulnerable workers.

And it is not a flagrant form of coercion. We have cited in this report and in our many training and guidance documents some of the ways in which a vulnerable worker can be placed eventually into a forced labor, trafficking, and debt bondage situation.

I remember spending time with Nepalese workers in one southeast Asian richer country, and they showed me that they have had one contract in their village in their country of origin, but when they got to the destination country they had a totally different contract with totally different conditions.

The next thing is that we are finding more and more that aspirant migrant workers are paying rather large amounts of money compared with their likely earnings in order to migrate overseas. We're finding there is a whole spiral and chain of recruiting intermediaries, from labor brokers through to more officially recognized recruitment agencies. And there can be other transaction costs as well.

So this is not the kind of situation where a Chinese person pays as much as $70,000 to a snakehead in order to migrate illegally, to be smuggled abroad. We know that that's a problem. We're talking about something totally different, where we're finding that apparently legal mechanisms are being used by these recruitment agencies, but it is becoming increasingly difficult to distinguish between what is lawful, what is unlawful, what is fair, and what is unfair.

What we do know is that these costs of recruitment are absolutely excessive. We're finding that poor peasants in Bangladesh are mortgaging their houses, selling their houses, in order to embark on the overseas employment trail. It may be low by U.S. standards, $3,000, but it can be up to two-to-three years' earnings.

And if they are being cheated and they are getting different conditions, if their passports are stolen, if they are having to pay more for visas, then they are getting into impossible debt situations. I can say more about this. I hope we can deal with it during the question time.

But what it means is that if we are going to have effective action against modern forced labor and trafficking, we've got to have all parties working together, because we've got to look at what are the gaps in the law which are allowing these abuses to happen.

So crime is part of it, part of it is organized crime even, but part of it is this very, very grey area where excessive abuses are happening and the workers involved are suffering absolutely terribly in the destination countries.

I would just like to say, what are we doing as ILO? We are having events like this. I won't talk about operational programs we have, but we're increasingly trying to get memoranda of understanding, agreements between sender and destination countries. We are trying to train labor attachés, and particularly labor inspectors, to identify forced labor.

In question time I'd like to say something about the operational indicators we're developing to help law enforcement distinguish between the more and the less serious situations so that they can have the right policy response.

I loved listening to Robert Moossy in Ukraine. I hope he has time to talk about the various charges you can use, because what we're clearly seeing is that we've got various what we call lesser offenses of exploitation, which can deteriorate into the most serious forms of forced labor which deserve ten or 20 years' imprisonment. But we've got to deal with the contributing factors. We've got to deal with these abusive recruitment systems.

Finally, it's terribly important that not only labor inspectors but also judges should be able to learn from each other and learn how to deal with this very difficult and new challenge for them.

I'm quite excited by a new publication we have just put on our website. It's called "Forced Labor and Human Trafficking: A Casebook of Court Decisions." This is something we based on looking at all court decisions we could find from around the world in both civil law and common law traditions.  We are finding that, like in this country, we're now having vigorous law enforcement against forced labor for the first time. It's only just beginning in other countries, but it really is beginning now.

Most countries have the legislation in place. What they've got to do is find out how to understand, how to grapple with, forced labor.

As The Economist said last year, everybody agrees that coercing helpless human beings is very unfair. But even identifying the problem, let alone solving it, is very difficult.

That's what our global report is doing. It's really trying to help you understand the gradations of the problem and setting out the different ways in which different actors can work together to find the necessary solution and to end and eradicate forced labor.

Thank you very much.

WILLIAM VOCKE: Thank you, Roger.

You can see why we started off with Roger. This issue is an issue that is global, it's cross-national. It involves international organizations, it involves companies, it involves individuals. It is a massive issue and it is a very difficult issue to understand. That's what the ILO is trying to do, it's trying to understand this issue, to put it in some perspective, and to issue some operational guidelines that can be useful in prosecuting this issue.

We'll skip to a very different side now. We have someone to speak to us who has been both a victim and an activist involved in this issue, Maria Suarez.

MARIA SUAREZ: Thank you. Good afternoon. Thank you for having me here today.

Actually, when he was talking to us about human trafficking and how other people do not care about other humans' lives and how they treat them and how they use and abuse them and then they dispose of people, that is something that I am against because I'm a victim. I was a victim of human trafficking. I'm a survivor today. I'm proud of being a survivor because now I can do something good for people who are going through the same situation that I was in before.

I'm going to tell you a little bit about me. At the age of 16 I came to this country, like every young girl comes to this country, full of dreams and goals to fulfill. Never did I think that this country is going to do something wrong or there are going to be people who are going to be willing to hurt others.

The thing is that when I came to this country I was offered a job. I'm a little bit afraid of how I say my story because my sister is here and this is the first time that she actually hears me talking about it. She got very emotional this morning. I'm trying to make it a little bit less painful for her. So that's why you see me kind of struggling a little bit how to say this without saying things that are going to hurt her or she's going to feel pain.

At the age of 16 I was offered a job from a lady that I didn't know. The one thing that I did was trust somebody that I didn't know. This woman offered me the job and told me not to tell my family, which I didn't because I thought that it was a very good idea for me not to tell my family and surprise them with a job.

The lady didn't take me that same day, but she took me days later. She took days to come back. When she came back, she asked me if I still wanted the job. I told her yes. She asked for me to go and meet who was supposed to be my boss. I told her that I need to go and tell somebody in my family that I was going with her. She told me not to tell them because we were going to go and come back right away.

I trusted her. I went with her on a ride of over 45 minutes or an hour from where my sister was living to the place where we went. When we got there, I saw the house. I had the sense like you right away feel that, "Okay, I'm in the wrong place," because I felt this fear in my stomach, but I didn't know how to identify that feeling.

I sat in the living room. The trafficker and the one that brought me, the trafficker and the seller, went in one of the rooms in the back and they were talking. I was sitting in there. When I was looking around the house, I noticed that the doors and the windows had padlocks and extra locks, a very secure house. But I didn't know what was happening. I still keep feeling the same thing, that I'm in the wrong place, but I don't say anything.

Later on, after about half an hour or more, they came back. They were smiling, talking. I said, "I want to go," because I knew I had my family at home and I needed to go and tell them where I was.

When I tell them that I want to move, between him and her they convinced me not to leave. They told me that his wife was going to come home. I said, "No, no."

They let me use the phone. He let me use the phone. He told me to call my sister. He removed a little lock from off the phone, because at that time they had a rotary phone.

I called my sister. First of all, I don't speak English. Second of all, I don't know where I was, I don't even know the address where I was or the full name of this person who was going to hire me, or nothing. I told my sister that I was in this place and there was a man there who was going to give me a job calling and answering phones.

My sister was not happy. She was very unhappy. She told me, "No, come home."

This man told me not to worry, that he was going to take me the next day. Well, the next day he never came back. After three days of being in his house, he raped me.

Then, after he raped me, he told me that I couldn't go anywhere, that he had bought me for $200, and he was going to do whatever he wanted to do to me and he was a witch. He also told me that he could kill my family if I told somebody. The police knew what he was doing and they didn't care because the police were on his side. So I believed this man.

I just had been in this country about a month or less than a month, so I didn't even know that well people or the country.

After that, what happened is that he kept me in his house for over five years. During those five years I suffered rapes, beatings. The abuse was emotional, physical, spiritual, and mental, because the way he was treating me and the way he kept on telling me that he would kill my family every time that I didn't want to do something for him or whatever he was wanting sexually with me. He told me that he was going to kill my family, that he knew where they lived. He used to describe the ways he was going to kill my family.

So the fear was on me all the time. I got to the point that I didn't care about my life anymore, I didn't care about myself; the only thing I cared about was keeping my family alive and saving them.

It was over six years that I was there. When I reached 18 he sent me to work. When I was working he used to take me over there and pick me up. When I was getting my check he was taking my check, cashing it, and giving me just change. I not only was a slave by working for him but I also was working on the house, doing everything in the house. The abuse was every day.

He told me that I could not talk to anyone, that if I talked to somebody or told somebody about what was happening to me that he would see it in his crystal ball. He showed me his little crystal ball where he was able to see me and watch everything that I was doing. The fear was always in me. Afraid to talk to people, afraid to tell my family, afraid to do anything.

One day this young couple came and rented the house, the garage that he turned into an apartment. They were young. Probably they were around my age at that time. He started liking the young girl of the couple and he started doing witchcraft on them. The husband found out that he was going into his apartment and doing things. Of course the husband didn't like that.

So one day in the morning this man got killed. I hear somebody calling my name. I knew it was him. He was calling my name real loud. I was getting ready to go to work. I went out, because every time that he called me I needed to be there right away or otherwise I would either get beat up or he would start making some phone calls—he was supposed to have people who were going to kill my family for him, so making phone calls and telling people to go and kill my family. So I had to beg him not to do nothing to my family.

That day when he called me I came out of the house to see what he wanted. I found him on the ground. The husband of this young girl killed him. He gave me that piece of wood and told me to put it under the house, which I did. When I put it under the house, I don't know what happened. I don't remember that much of that crime or anything like that because I went into shock.

But when they got arrested they told the police that I knew where was the piece of wood. The police called me and I told them where it was. I even gave it to them. I went under the house and got it and gave it to them.

That made me get arrested. I got arrested. I went to jail. They tried me in one year and gave me 25 years to life. So I went to prison to do 25 years to life. Out of those 25 years I did 22½.

Then, after I got released from prison, INS [Immigration and Naturalization Service] got hold of me and told me that I couldn't stay in this country. They took my green card and they held me in INS for five months and seven days until another attorney took care of those issues and got me a TV set and let me stay in this country.

So that's my story. Like I said before, it's very hard for me to talk in front of my sister because she gets very emotional. Thank you very much for listening to me.

WILLIAM VOCKE: Thank you, Maria.

Our next panelist is Robert Moossy. Robert is Director of the Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit in the Criminal Section of the U.S. Department of Justice in the Civil Rights Division. Robert is one of the people who tries to put people who are doing this in prison. Robert.

ROBERT MOOSSY: Thank you very much. It's a pleasure to be here. I'm looking forward to your questions after I make my brief remarks.

I am a federal prosecutor. I actually now supervise a team of prosecutors who work across the United States to put people who commit forced labor or human trafficking in prison.

What I'd like to do today is talk to you a little bit first about the laws in the United States that govern forced labor. I know this isn't a law school class, so I won't spend very long on that, but I'll give you an idea of how we view it. Then I'd like to discuss a couple of case examples with you so you have an understanding of what we're seeing in the United States. Then I've got a couple of issues that we've seen in human trafficking and the solutions that, at least in the United States, we have come up with to try to address those issues. Then I'll conclude with some thoughts I have on going forward and where I see the forced labor movement going and things that might move it forward.

Forced labor is a crime in the United States. The crime is defined as "providing or obtaining labor" by one of four prohibited means:

  • By force or threats of force.
  • By threatening serious harm, which could be psychological harm, economic harm, but it has to be serious.
  • By engaging in a scheme to make somebody think that if they don't work, some serious harm will happen to them or to somebody else: "If you don't work here, something bad will happen to your family overseas," for example; or, "There's a big debt, and if you don't continue working, your family overseas will be completely bankrupted, thrown out of their homes, and possibly prosecuted for bankruptcy."
  • And finally, the fourth means, which is the one that we actually see the most, is abuse of the law or the legal process, which is taking the laws and twisting them in way to have them not be protecting people but to be hurting people.

    The most common example of that are people who are in the United States who are undocumented and the trafficker is telling them, "Keep working for me or I will report you to the authorities and have you deported and have you jailed." While it's true that people who are undocumented may be deported, it is not the purpose of the law to empower employers or bosses to take control of undocumented people, to compel their service.



On the other side, I also enforce the sex trafficking laws. We're not going to talk about that today, but many of these laws are related to each other and inform each other.

The forced labor law is punishable up to 20 years' imprisonment, depending on how extreme the conduct was.

It covers attempt—in other words, people trying to do it, even if they're not successful.

And it has a mandatory restitution and forfeiture provision, meaning that we can go to the people who commit forced labor, we can take away their ill-gotten profits.

We can seize the farm where they held the migrant workers, the factory where they've exploited the workers, and sell it and give that money to the victims, to try to make them whole for what they lost.

Now, many of us, when we think of forced labor, we think of this being something that happens in South America or in China. But, sadly, we have an abundant supply of forced labor in the United States. I want to talk about just three cases with you to give you an idea of some of the things that we have seen.

First, let me say that in the last year and a half we have identified in the United States 1,400 potential human trafficking victims. These are people who, based on their statements, make out claims of human trafficking. Of those, 350 are labor trafficking victims. So this is something that we are seeing quite a lot.

We're seeing it in Houston, Texas, where we did a prosecution, called United States v. Mondragon, where over 100 Honduran women were brought to the United States from Honduras, smuggled in, undocumented, and put to work by both the smugglers and the people operating the forced labor operation in cantinas, which are little bars, in a particular area of Houston. Their job was to sell very-high-priced drinks, $12 little beers, to men who would come in after work, and flirt with these men and possibly entice them into commercial sexual activity, although we didn't pursue the case under that theory.

The way that they made these women do it was, 1), by playing on their illegal immigration status; but mostly, actually, by threats of force, by threatening their families; they threatened not them, but their families back home. "I'm the one who went and got you from Honduras, and I know exactly where your sister lives and I know exactly where your mother lives, and the part of our operation back in Honduras will harm them, will kill them, will hurt them." In fact, one woman ran away and they actually did burn her house down in Honduras.

And so here were these hundred women in Houston, Texas, who had nowhere to go, who didn't really speak the language, who were strangers in a strange land to them, whose families were being threatened.

We prosecuted eight defendants in that case. They're each serving 15 years' imprisonment, and we got $7 million in restitution for the victims. Those women are living now in Texas with immigration benefits and with services equivalent to refugee services, trying to put their lives together, get education, learn English, and work.

Fort Myers, Florida, United States v. Navarette. This is a case of migrant farm workers from Mexico, eight of them. They were drinkers, probably alcoholics.

Their job was to go out into the fields, into the farms, and pick those delicious red, ripe tomatoes. You know, most tomatoes are picked in a relatively raw state and they're hard, and then they ripen them through a chemical process. But at fancy restaurants, when you order that nice salad that comes with the cheese and the basil leaf, these are nice ripened tomatoes, and they must be picked by hand and they must be picked when they're ripe. The people who pick them are called "pin hookers." 

Well, the crew boss, who wanted to make a lot of money, would go to farms and say, "I've got a team of people who can pick your tomatoes and we're available whenever you want." The way he made them available is he took these eight men and he locked them in the back of a truck, a big box truck, and that's where they lived and they defecated and they ate.

When there were ripe tomatoes, he would drive that truck to the farm, lift up the back, and the workers would come out and pick the tomatoes. If somebody was sick, they were literally chained to the axle of the truck so they wouldn't run away. And, while picking, they stood over them with guns and weapons.

We prosecuted them and they each received ten years' imprisonment, four defendants.

Finally, a third case in Milwaukee. Now, this is a case that didn't involve any physical violence. This is a case of two wealthy doctors, who went to the Philippines and found a young woman, aged 18 years old, and said, "I can take you out of this, what was basically a rural plantation setting, where you're living in a home literally made out of mats, with a dirt floor, and take you to the United States and offer you things there that you might dream about, that maybe you've seen on TV or heard about."

This young woman at the age of 18 came to the United States, trusting these two wealthy doctors, both of them doctors practicing in Milwaukee. They brought her to their house and she lived for 19 years in a small basement room, cleaning, preparing for parties, doing the laundry, washing the cars.

The way they kept her was they told her, "There was a terrible mistake in bringing you over with your immigration status, and if you try to leave you will be arrested, you'll be detained, and you'll be jailed. And if you're sent back to the Philippines, you'll be sent back in shame."

They literally got to the point where they were doing drills with her, psychological manipulation, where she had to pretend that if the police were at the door what would she do. She would run down and hide in the little closet in her room.

She was allowed to leave the house only once a week, and that was to go to church on Sunday. She would get in the car in the garage, she'd have to lay down on the back seat, they'd then put a blanket over her body, and they would drive her a block away from the church.

Now, this is very elaborate, right? Do you honestly think the American police are out there looking for her? I mean she is not one of the 9/11 masterminds, right? This is a ruse that they are doing to instill fear in her, to keep her afraid psychologically. They don't need to beat her at this point. They've got her scared.

She is then allowed to go to church. They go into the church after her and watch her. She then comes out a block away, gets in the car, and does the same thing. Interestingly, she had to wash the cars, but she couldn't wash them outside. She had to wash the cars in the garage.

One of the ways that we found out about this case is that the neighbors kept seeing water come out of the closed garage, running down the driveway, and alerted the authorities that there might be something wrong in the house.

She was a very trusting woman, as many of these victims are.

Both of those doctors were criminally prosecuted. They were initially sentenced to four years in prison, although I think that we're about to resentence them for much longer, and are required to pay $950,000 in restitution.

We see case after case after case like that here in the United States.

I want to talk to you about three issues quickly that I think you should be aware of in human trafficking.

One we talked about: subtle coercion. People are not always held in forced labor by beatings. Psychological or emotional manipulation can be just as coercive as physical force, and we see that, and the law addresses it.

Second, these cases all had victims who were human beings who had been traumatized. That calls us to have what we call a victim-centered approach to these prosecutions. That victim-centered approach has really three parts:

  • Undocumented victims get immigration status to remain in the United States; what they're doing really is helping with the prosecution, but they also get a work permit;


  • They get refugee benefits, meaning that they're treated like refugees—they get subsistence housing, things like that; 


  • And as I said before, they get work permits. So they can start putting their lives back together and start working and trying to have a life where they're in control of their labor, they're in control of their lives, not the human trafficker who's engaging in forced labor.



It's a complex crime. These crimes take place not in an instant, like a robbery, but over months and over years. The exploitation and the breaking down of the will and the violence, like you've just heard about from Ms. Suarez, takes place time and time and time again. The impact of that repeated traumatization is enormous.

So we have to respond by understanding that these people are traumatized. They may be undocumented, they may be indebted. There are financial crimes going on at the same time. This complex crime requires an integrated and holistic response.

What we have done in the United States is we formed 42 human trafficking task forces around the United States that are funded, and there's many more unfunded, and they bring together the prosecutors and the police officers and the nongovernmental organizations, the nonprofit groups, and the Department of Labor and other agencies.

Before the crime happens everybody is on the team and knows what to do, so that when we find a victim we can address the crime in a holistic way by both providing victim services and by prosecuting the case.

Finally, I'll just close by listing kind of four, I think, next steps.

One is we've got to reach rural America. You know, we can sit here and talk to people in the cities of the United States—and we do see human trafficking here and we see a lot of sex trafficking. But we need to get out into the countryside where migrant farm workers are working and living and educate people there.

Two, we need to look at our H-2A and H-2B visa programs and our other visa programs, which I think are bringing people into the United States legally but can be prone to exploitation, especially by, as Mr. Plant said, fraudulent recruiters charging huge fees to get people indebted.

Third, civil suits. I don't think you can rely on this being a problem that's resolved only by criminal prosecution. I think in addition to criminal prosecution we need an aggressive civil enforcement program. There are civil laws out there that allow trafficking victims to sue in civil court for money damages their human traffickers. I would love to see a civil law movement rise up, like the Southern Poverty Law Center did in combating the Ku Klux Klan in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s.

And then finally, fourth, we have to recognize that forced labor is not this little incident that just happens, a blip out there. It is a point toward the end of a spectrum of labor exploitation. Behind every wage-and-hour complaint or Occupational Safety and Health Act complaint, behind cases of visa fraud, these sort of lesser crimes, are activities that can promote and lead to human trafficking.

We have to be working and cognizant of that entire spectrum of labor exploitation, because the workers who are put in horrible conditions, who aren't paid fairly, who have gotten into debt, who are here with unlawful documents, are being softened up, and when they come across a trafficker they are more vulnerable to that exploitation. We see that all the time.

I know my time is up. Thank you very much. I look forward to answering your questions.

Questions and Answers

WILLIAM VOCKE:Thank you, Roger. Thank all of you.

What we're going to do now is I'm going to just posit a couple of things here I'd like the panelists, in the process of answering your questions, to also perhaps address.

But you don't need to answer these things right now.

It would be helpful for me if I understood a little bit more the definitional differences between human trafficking and forced labor and the degree to which forced labor occurs without human trafficking—in other words, without that difference.

It would be helpful for me to understand a little bit more about the numbers and the relative locations of this, not only in the United States but around the world. Is Maine a major place that this occurs, and is the United States? We know it happens everywhere. So it would be helpful for me to just have a better understanding of numbers, who, when, where, and how.

And it would be helpful for me if you could talk about some of the dilemmas, particularly the ethical dilemmas, that are part of this. For instance, the parent that has the child that works in the parent's business everyday after school and every weekend from the time they're ten until the time they're 21. You talked about that spectrum.

There's clearly a point in that spectrum at which you say, "Well, this may not be prosecutable, but is it ethical?"

So I'd like you to talk about the dilemmas, as a prosecutor or as an activist or as a person helping to try to put some parameters on this, you face when dealing with these issues, those difficult points at which you have to ask, is this standard cultural practice? Is this part of how people behave in this part of the world, rural America?

QUESTION: I was wondering, before you came to this country, in the sense of prevention, if you had access to some sort of information about your rights. What could have been helpful for you, maybe before you even came, to have avoided the situation, if anything?

WILLIAM VOCKE: Let's take one at a time here. Maria?

MARIA SUAREZ: No, no idea of any of my rights. I was very ignorant in that area—ignorant not in a bad way, but ignorant. We didn't have anything there. I came from a little village where we don't know about human trafficking or rights.

QUESTION: I also wanted to know if there was something that would have helped.

Then, my other questions are about what happens in the foreign countries before workers come. We had talked about a lot of the false promises that Roger Plant mentioned. What can we do, in the sense of legal remedies as well, when it's a foreign national, say in Mexico, making false promises to workers when they come up?

And then, what do you do with the U.S. in a civil sense or a criminal sense to deal with that false promise by a foreign national in a foreign country before the person even comes here?

And then, just threats. With the organization I work with, we deal with portable justice issues all the time, like what do workers do to access justice after they have gone back to their home countries.

And threats. Two days ago, I just have a case, the same thing. There is litigation in the United States for exploited workers and they're threatening the family members back in Guatemala. What can we do in Guatemala to protect those family members from those types of threats?

WILLIAM VOCKE: Roger or Robert?

ROGER PLANT: If it's okay, William, I'd like to begin by responding to your questions. I think it is fundamental to some of these discussions. Then I will come on to your question.

We didn't have time to go into depth. I gave a very quick definition of what forced labor is for the ILO. We've been having very intense discussions for several years with different U.S. government departments, in fact, on inter-linkages between forced labor and trafficking.

Sometimes it's semantic; we don't have to spend much time on it. But sometimes it's more fundamental and it does need more attention.

Forced labor is coercion. That's absolutely clear. It's clear in our definition and it's clear in the words.

When you look at the way Member States have defined human trafficking, the UN definition is enormously complex. I'm not going to go into it. There are various agents that can be invoked. You are looking right across the spectrum from the initial recruiters, to the transporters, to those who harbor, to the end users of the person.

But most people will agree that what distinguishes human trafficking from human smuggling is precisely the deception and the coercion that comes at the end of the cycle, the horrible problems that Maria Suarez was describing.

However, in national definitions a number of countries—I can think of three European countries and others as well—actually place the emphasis not only on the coercion and the deception, but on conditions of work which are considered incompatible with human dignity. If you look at the German legislation, they say there is an enormous disparity between the wages paid to migrant workers and the wages paid to German nationals.

That's one part of it.

The other, which has been put on the law enforcement agenda by a new Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime and the Trafficking Protocol, is this concept of criminal exploitation. Now, this is totally new. In fact, I know of none of our conventions that actually use the term "exploitation." This is a massive challenge for everybody, to work out when does exploitation become criminal. This is what Robert was talking about when he had time. This is what we've had many talks about at other times.

Now, the other thing is: Does trafficking require movement? In fact, when I've talked to some people from the State Department's Anti-Trafficking Office, they said, "What is all this? What's the difference between trafficking and forced labor?"

We've said in our estimate that not all forced labor is the result of trafficking, only 20 percent is the result of trafficking, because we think it is important to focus on other coercion which has nothing to do with movement, it doesn't involve recruitment agencies, although it very often does.

So these issues are out there. As I always say, we can describe decent work; we see that forced labor is the absolute antithesis.

Ending forced labor is the first step on the ladder to making this better. But we've got to grapple with these other forms of exploitation.

What this report is doing, I think it is pushing out the boat. It's really trying to provoke this necessary discussion as to how to grapple with these rather grey areas of exploitation. This is what we are having to discuss with business as well.

And then, on false promises and how do you access justice, your question, well, you need firstly awareness raising. You need, secondly—that's why I talked about this—you've got to have cooperation between the authorities in the sender and the destination countries. But we do insist that, at a time when we've practically done away with public employment agencies and there has now been this proliferation of private employment agencies, there is a need for some regulation and monitoring. The unions come into that as well in countries like Guatemala.

I'll talk too long if I go on any further, so I'll leave it at that. Thank you.


ROBERT MOOSSY: Sure, I'll address two parts of that.

The definitional issue between human trafficking and forced labor in the United States, there really isn't one. For us in the United States, all of these crimes—trafficking, forced labor, sex trafficking—come out of our Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which is the Amendment prohibiting slavery. So our vision in the United States of why these are appropriate federal statutes is because what we're punishing is modern-day slavery and slavery-like activity.

So whether somebody moved from A to B, or it was labor with sex, the thing that we're really trying to focus on is that they are being made to do something against their will, and that that deprivation of liberty is a key American and human right that is enshrined in our Constitution in the Thirteenth Amendment. So all these other definitions about, is it trafficking?, Is it forced labor?, et cetera, the law doesn't really get too bogged down in that. It's looking at this basic human rights violation.

Now, to the issue of what to do when abuses happen overseas, this has two components.

One is when the fraud happens overseas. If that person comes to the United States, there is actually a new statute that just went into effect in December 2008, called Fraud in Foreign Labor Contracting, where if people are defrauded in coming to the United States, you're going to make so much money or they're charging you these outrageous fees, and they come to the United States, anybody who we can get hold of who was involved in that fraud—now, that person has to be in the United States for us to be able to arrest him; we can't go over to Guatemala and arrest somebody—we can prosecute for that kind of fraud, even if it's short of forced labor.

So I think what you're seeing is the U.S. Congress becoming very aware of these ideas that Mr. Plant and the ILO and others in the nongovernmental community are emphasizing and highlighting as the broader forms of labor exploitation, not just forced labor.

Your second question about threats to family, we do see family members threatened overseas. If a family member is being threatened and it's an ongoing federal case, you should let law enforcement know, because there are mechanisms to bring those family members to the United States if we can't secure their safety.

We do that because we recognize it's the right thing to do, but also because from a policy perspective we can't ask a victim to cooperate in a criminal prosecution when doing so will result in harm to their family. They're not going to work with us. And so we have to have the means to get those families here so that we can do justice and prosecute that defendant who engaged in forced labor.

QUESTION: I've been looking for those answers that you mentioned, that you address, for some years. I went to graduate school in Texas and dealt with a lot of issues like that while working for an international program. Will you address undocumented workers? We don't know our rights. We don't know where to go, where to ask, right now.

When I tried to ask the questions to scholar services at the university, since obviously they don't want to deal with those kind of issues, they are not going to inform you honestly. But 80 percent of the students have problems. So where should we go to be informed appropriately?

Thank you.

WILLIAM VOCKE: Let's take a couple more.

QUESTION: I have a question. I live in Chinatown. There is a very large Fujianese community in Chinatown. Many of them were brought to New York through a human smuggling operation. There was a recent case of Sister Ping, who was a big snakehead who brought a number of Fujianese people, and many of their friends and family who have also been brought are friends of mine in Chinatown.

I guess my question is sort of the opposite side of the coin. I know there is a bit of a difference between smuggling and trafficking, because a lot of the people who came, came by choice, but once they arrived they were indentured and forced into labor. People look to the snakeheads as really honorable people because they were able to bring them to the United States for a better life, and many people look at the snakeheads as really quality and good actors in the community.

So I guess my question is: Is there a larger global economic issue that we're not looking at, that this isn't just an issue of going after the trafficker or the smuggling or punishing the company that hires, but there are larger global economic issues, such as free trade and other types of agreements, that are made at the government level, as opposed to prosecuting the snakeheads and going after traffickers, et cetera?

QUESTION: I was wondering how gender-oriented most of this was. I assume most of it is against women, or they get seduced into this. I was wondering whether I was right in that assumption or not.

QUESTION: You talked about having a victim-centered law, that it provides benefits to survivors of trafficking. However, there is a caveat, that a person has to be willing to cooperate with law enforcement in the investigation or prosecution of the trafficker in order to be able to receive those benefits and services.

So if you could talk about reconciling that a little bit.

WILLIAM VOCKE: Panelists, reactions to these? Maria, do you have any comments?



ROGER PLANT: I am going to spend most of my time responding to the questions on China. It has engrossed me a lot. I have been going to China a lot. I have been dealing with a lot of the Chinese communities abroad. We have a Chinese program officer in our team.

I started looking at this several years ago, in fact, when I started reading reports, one by the French Parliament, saying, "We know that there's serious trafficking involving the Chinese ethnic community. But it's difficult to penetrate, and nobody can really find out what's going on."

So I started going to China. We had several meetings, some quite high level with the government. Then we started working, providing awareness-raising programs in Fujian Province, in Zhejiang, particularly down in the south, where most of the Chinese have traditionally come from to the United States and Europe. You're now getting a new flow coming from the northeastern belt and other parts.

There is a huge movement of Chinese all over the world at the moment. And as you've said, even looking at much of the literature, there is sometimes a feeling that the snakehead is performing a service, that the snakehead is a white knight.

I remember reading one of the latest books about Chinese smuggling to the United States. It was arguing that Chinese are very rational. They make an investment.

There's a huge difference between what they pay to get to the United States and to get to where most of the Chinese are going, which is Singapore, Japan, and South Korea. When it's actually trafficking, they can be paying several hundred dollars to go to Korea, even to North Korea, and a huge amount more.

So what's happening is that, as we understand it, most Chinese are getting in debt for up to two years. They are working in absolutely appalling conditions. It's an affront to human dignity. There have been cases where Chinese workers have simply died of exhaustion because they have to work flat-out day and night.

We brought a video to show you—we can't show it here, but it's available for you—which my colleague Hooten [phonetic] was the joint producer in affiliation with the Italian carabinieri, going into one of these sweatshops where the Chinese are exploited.

So what we've got is the more we work with the Chinese, we found out, as I was saying earlier, that you can't say on the one hand there's illegal recruitment, on the other hand recruitment that is legal. We're finding that all kinds of recruitment agencies are carrying out a blend of legal and illegal activities.

But the Chinese are getting heavily, heavily into debt. If they are saving money after a three-to-four-year period, they're putting up with it, but they're putting up with tremendous human sacrifice. So what we've got to think of is, let's have universal standards; gradually we've got to say, "We can't allow this to happen on European labor markets." So that's the other way of looking at it, saying, "We can't allow what's called 'self-exploitation.'"

But it's a very difficult one, it's extremely difficult, and I accept your comments.

Very briefly on gender, yes, whether it's trafficking for sexual exploitation or whether it's trafficking for labor exploitation, if we look at the number of domestic workers who are enduring terrible conditions, particularly from the poorer Asian countries going to the Middle Eastern countries, there is an enormous gender perspective on this.

The only thing I'll say from the other side is the more research that is done by us and organizations like the IOM [International Organization for Migration], don't think that the traffickers tend to be male. In fact, very often we're finding that up to 50 percent of the traffickers are female as well. So just remember that aspect of the gender perspective.

But yes, the victims are predominantly women, and young women.

WILLIAM VOCKE: Robert, did you have any comment on who you should go to or the law enforcement issue and the people coming forward and cooperating?

ROBERT MOOSSY: I have a couple of comments.

I'll follow up on Roger's comment about gender. In our labor exploitation/forced labor cases, we see about 75 percent of our victims are women or girls. I don't have the exact numbers, but I remember it's about that. In the sex trafficking area, it's 90-something percent women or girls.

We also see that many of our defendants are women. I don't think it's the majority, but many. And our defendants tend, but not always, to be of the same ethnicity as the victims.

I would say also that in our labor trafficking cases probably 90 percent or more of our victims are aliens, whereas in the sex trafficking cases I think those numbers would be different, because we've seen many U.S. citizens exploited in sex trafficking.

Now, one of the things we've been asked to point out by our moderator is our dilemmas, our ethical dilemmas. I thought that both questions about smuggling and about being undocumented raise a dilemma that we often see in trying to address forced labor, which is that on the one hand you may have somebody here who is working in an undocumented status, and they are getting some benefit in that they are working in a way that, at least according to the government, they should not be.

On the other hand, you've got somebody who may need to come forward as a victim of a crime, forced labor. By coming forward, they put themselves in the hands of law enforcement. If not victims, they are now undocumented workers in the hands of law enforcement. One of our dilemmas in identifying forced labor cases is getting victims to come forward in a way that doesn't harm them by resulting in their deportation should law enforcement decide that they are not victims. That is just a dilemma that we have in trying to combat both labor and sex trafficking.

To the question about having to cooperate with law enforcement, I've got just a couple of comments.

It is a victim-centered law. Anybody who is identified by law enforcement as a trafficking victim, whether they cooperate or not, can get immigration status and a work permit. Cooperation for adults turns on refugee benefits—housing, subsistence, things like that, that refugees get. Children are not required to cooperate. So only adults are required to cooperate to receive certain financial benefits. They do not have to cooperate to get immigration status and a work permit.

But in my mind the requirement of cooperation is a good thing. I'm probably saying that because I'm in law enforcement. But also because I think we have to be very aware that when law enforcement identifies—or even an NGO identifies—a trafficker, in that moment in time that trafficker may have five victims, ten victims, in the case of Houston, 100 victims. But that's right then, that's on that day, that day we came in there. Many of these traffickers have operated for years and have exploited hundreds and hundreds of human beings. If not stopped, they will continue to exploit hundreds and hundreds of children and human beings.

So law enforcement here is critical, not just to bring justice for the victim in front of us now, but for the past victims and to prevent the victimization of humans in the future. That's why I think cooperation is an important thing and something that we in law enforcement need to learn to work toward in a constructive way with the victims of this crime.

WILLIAM VOCKE: Further questions?

QUESTION: I'm fairly old and, frankly, fairly angry. I bumped into the problem that you're talking about today in 1982. I was working in Kuwait. I came home. My wife is Jamaican and at home we talk a little bit about the history of slavery—surprise, surprise. I said, "Kuwait is just full of economic slavery and nobody gives a damn." That's about when Maria, I guess, was beginning.

I also that year did some work in Thailand. Everybody knew Thailand at that time—Bangkok is the sex capital of the world.

I am just so damned annoyed that 25 years later almost nothing seems to really have been accomplished. I am delighted with everybody who is working on the problem. But I would argue that as a global society we just haven't got a clue what to do. The law is wonderful up to a point, but it trips you up left, right, and center.

I love the UN. I've done a lot of work with the UN. But they just scratch the surface. You know, the ILO reference to 1930—you know, I tell you, that's a long time ago.

So what on earth can we do to get global society to be engaged in this so that as a global society we actually are a foundation with you guys, the people who work specifically on these, to really get the show on the road?


ROGER PLANT: Can I applaud the question?

WILLIAM VOCKE: Yes, certainly.


QUESTION: I get the impression that this industry is expanding, is getting bigger and bigger. How can we deal with it? Can we identify what the forces are, why this is expanding? If not, perhaps by using the law—normally, we talk about punishing the one providing the services. How about if a punishment can be expanded to all the participants in the entire industry, perhaps including the victims itself? Of course, this will raise the issue of punishing the victim. Would that be the more effective means to first identify the forces of why this industry is expanding and how we get rid of it? Thank you.

QUESTION: My question is related to our particular sector of organizations that are on the front lines in addressing these abuses and exploitations. You've talked about the subtle types of coercion as well as the overt ones. You've also mentioned that few cases have been brought to justice. And you've talked about the laws. Mr. Plant, you talked a lot about the grey areas.

I also want to add that the context here is also that there is lack of legislation. There is a lack of laws to address the current, modern-day conditions. Our laws have been a little bit slow in catching up.

So my question is: What suggestions do your case studies that you've talked about today, that you've documented in this report—what do these case studies offer us who are organizing on the ground as we continue to work to protect victims of forced labor, even when our laws here in this country have failed to recognize them as victims?

WILLIAM VOCKE: So we have three sets of questions: 1) How can society globally organize? 2) Is the industry getting bigger and bigger and do we also have to look at the whole range of people involved in the process? and 3) What about some suggestions?

Anyone? Maria, would you have any idea about suggestions, things that we should be doing?

MARIA SUAREZ: Well, first of all, I think that we need to educate people in villages who do not know the meaning of human trafficking. I didn't have any idea what I was getting myself into. It is because no one never mentioned it, no one never schooled me on any of those issues.

So I think the best thing for us to do is to focus on those people who are living in villages and they don't have any idea of the meaning of human trafficking, or just make them aware that if other people come and ask them to come to this country, with all of those false promises, to say "No," or to know the person and get more ideas how they are going to come to this country and where they are going to be and the people.

Because they go and they promise to these poor people that they are going to come to this country and have this great job or go to school and they're going to be taking care of their family and you are going to be taken care of over here, which is a lie.

They just come and they put them straight to work or prostitution, which is also work according to them. And the fear that they inflict on them is what actually makes them not say anything. So if we start educating those people, I think that will be the wonderful thing to do.



ROGER PLANT: I'd like to thank you for being angry because I think if we don't have a bit of anger in this room we are slightly wasting our time, because these are horrible issues and they have to be faced up to. I've had to be a diplomat for the last several years, and I perhaps show my anger rather less than I used to.

You mentioned Kuwait. I have been, I think, seven times in the last couple of years to the Gulf States. These are workers working in 45-degree [Centigrade] heat under appalling conditions, under very, very bad conditions. But once again, poverty is driving them to go there.

What we have seen is, again, you do need laws. If you don't have laws, if you don't have an institutional framework, then it is very, very difficult to capture these issues.

So we've had these debates. It was cited this morning that Bahrain, another Gulf State, relies on overseas temporary workers for 80 percent of its workforce, very often in construction, in absolutely searing heat and dangerous conditions.

When we had the public event on forced labor in Dubai, which has been heavily criticized, just three weeks ago, the head of the construction safety and health executive said, "Our main problem is people falling from buildings because they have come and they have never been working in high-rise construction."

These are poor villagers, for goodness sake, from Pakistan, from Bangladesh, and suddenly they have to be building these huge skyscrapers. But okay, that's not forced labor. But there are all these related issues of poor conditions.

What has happened is that there is now awareness in that part of the world. So I can say that for me it is progress that you can have a public debate, that the government of the United Arab Emirates has set up this anti-trafficking committee. They have had their first prosecutions. They are looking at these issues.

Just last week, the government of Bahrain, the minister of labor, after consultations with the Bahrain Chamber of Commerce and Industry, reformed their labor law so that these workers can at least move. As Robert Moossy was saying, you've got to look at these structures as well. Your H-2A and your H-2B visa system in the United States also ties workers to one employer.

We can't solve everything in the ILO. We can certainly do whatever we can to raise awareness of the fundamental issues, we can draw attention to our standards, and we can do what we will be doing tomorrow—I think Ivy will be there—where we're discussing intensively with the business community as to what they can do about modern forced labor and modern trafficking.

So sometimes we have to move slowly. Our job in the international community is to engage with governments, employers, and workers. We do have the luxury to do certain things. We can engage with governments. We have to make sure that we share this stuff globally.

Fortunately, after our launch we were on CNN, so we have reached hundreds of millions of people by doing this. Let's hope that this raises the global awareness. Let's hope that everybody will leave this room and share these messages.

Just again on this country, I came here several years ago, and I found that there was no awareness of forced labor in the United States, none whatsoever. It was on nobody's radar screen. So we funded a small study, which was brought out by the University of California at Berkeley, the Human Rights Institute, and a well-known NGO, called Free the Slaves. And we had some consultations with different government agencies. They endorsed the study.

That study—this goes to your question about locations—simply from looking at press reports identified forced labor in 75 American cities. That tells you the extent of what it was. And just last week Kevin Bales brought out a new book on slavery in the United States. So at least it's happening.

Just having the pleasure to listen to everything that Robert Moossy is doing—he is saying that they are moving forward.

I have to have this slightly longer-term perspective—okay, not like you, I don't have quite the same experience of Kuwait—but looking over the last eight or nine years.

Yes, there are new problems emerging. We're not going to give new figures of forced labor because we are going to have to conduct a very, very serious estimate to do that. But we are putting our finger on these emerging problems which can well turn out to be serious criminal forced labor. But we've also identified progress made in different parts of the world.

And I would say it is much more on public agendas than it was five, six, or seven years ago. Not enough. More needs to be done. The problems are still there. That's my response.


ROBERT MOOSSY: I think I'd ask on that point how many people in this room were part of the domestic violence movement and remember the history of that movement in the United States.

This was a crime. It had been going on for as long as people were in relationships. But that really became a focus of criminal and social policy, to the point now where I think everybody would say domestic violence is appalling and not just something that is part of a relationship. That took time. I think the human trafficking movement is like the domestic violence movement in some ways, in that we are just beginning.

I'll tell you a story. When our defendants are prosecuted, many of them have no concept that they did anything wrong. To them, "Of course I had a woman who waited on me hand and foot, who I never paid, who I beat when she did things improperly. That's the way I grew up. That's the way my family grew up in whatever country I'm from. To me it just seems normal. It almost in fact seems laughable that you would be trying to put me in prison for slapping around my maid. She's a Filipina. She came from nothing. At least she's got a roof over her head and she's got food. She'd probably be dying of some disease back in her home country."

That attitude is, unfortunately, common. While the criminal laws can in isolated instances punish that—and we have; we've punished hundreds of human traffickers in the United States and provided services to thousands of victims—that is not going to solve this problem.

We have to be doing work, exactly as Maria Suarez said, in the villages, and we have to be doing work all over the globe to make people realize that this isn't just a fact of life, that this is a crime and it's wrong.

We are doing that from a government response. Our State Department—I don't have time to go into it all—they have a very aggressive overseas program to try to have foreign governments recognize human trafficking, including forced labor, as a problem.

But I think the leaders in this are going to come, as they often do, from civil society, from groups in the civil society movement, because they're always ahead of what the government can do, and it's probably right that they are. So groups like this and other groups acting around the globe can change that. Just like in the domestic violence world, it's going to take time. But I think we're on the right path.

WILLIAM VOCKE: On that slightly positive note, let's finish the day. Thank you to our panelists. Join me in thanking the panelists.

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