Debt manipulation is one of the main methods by which workers can be exploited. Workers often borrow large sums of
money to cover the costs of recruitment or “job placement” fees that can run anywhere from several hundred to tens
of thousands of dollars. Workers may borrow money from family and friends, or mortgage their homes or ancestral
lands believing they can easily repay their debts upon employment. These costs, which may also be combined with
excessive or arbitrary interest rates, mean workers spend a period of time—sometimes years—working for very little
or no wages to repay what they owe. For example, one report tells
PREVENTING HUMAN TRAFFICKING IN GLOBAL SUPPLY CHAINS 15
A“ fter responding to an advertisement for a job in a Chicago hotel, I checked the legal
paid a recruiter fee, accepted the position and flew to New York City. I entered the United States lawfully on a
nonimmigrant visa arranged through the ‘recruiting organization’
that brought me here. I was picked up at the airport, along with five other women, by men we all believed were
affiliated with our recruiter. Shortly thereafter, however, our passports were forcibly removed, our lives were
threatened and the situation became clear: we were being trafficked into the sex trade.
Labor recruiters and contractors are directly involved in the trafficking and exploitation of workers around the
world, including men, women and children who enter the United States lawfully. These criminal recruiters make false
promises about jobs and charge workers high recruitment fees that force workers to stay in abusive or exploitative
working conditions under debt bondage.
– Shandra Woworuntu, survivor of sex trafficking and Founder, Mentari, a non-profit organization dedicated to
providing human trafficking survivors
with mentorship and job training
A 12-year-old girl checks her make-up. Traffickers have been known to make child sex
trafficking victims wear make-up and clothes—and even ingest drugs—to appear older.
16 2015 TRAFFICKING IN PERSONS REPORT
of a Nepalese man who took a loan at a 36 percent interest rate and leveraged his family land to pay a
$1,500 for a job abroad. After 14 months of a three-year contract, the man still was not able to save any money
because he was being paid far less than what had been promised to him. He reported that he would have liked to
return to Nepal, but would have had to pay a large fine to break his contract and purchase his own return flight.
He then would have had no means of repaying the loan.
At other times, employers withhold pay until the work is complete, meaning workers must forfeit the entirety of
their wages if they leave prior to the end of the contract. Workers may endure abusive conditions for fear of
losing their job and wages and defaulting on their debts. In many cases, unpaid debts result in threats to family
members or loss of family property, adding further pressure for workers to stay in servitude.
Some employers require their employees to buy food and supplies from “company stores” where high prices, coupled
with low wages, continue to drive workers further into debt. In Mexico, laborers sometimes live and work on farms
enclosed by fences with barbed wire, where they must buy necessities, including food, from the company store at
inflated prices. They are only paid at the end of the months-long season, and many workers report that at the end
of the harvest they return home owing money.
CONTRACT FRAUD OR SWITCHING
When a labor recruiter changes the terms and conditions of employment after a worker has invested in the
recruitment process—or transfers the worker to another labor recruiter who feels neither legally nor ethically
bound to the original contract—an individual’s vulnerability to forced labor increases dramatically. Contract fraud
occurs when a worker enters into an agreement with a labor broker, either orally or in writing, and finds upon
arrival that the conditions of employment have materially changed.
Not all workers sign contracts, and many of those who do are either illiterate or sign them in a language they are
unable to read. Even when workers can read the contract and willingly sign it, they may be forced to sign a
different and less protective contract once they arrive on location—the penalty for not doing so being the loss of
the job and being stranded without the means to get home. When contract switching occurs, workers may find that the
job they end up with differs substantially from the job offered. It may include longer hours, offer lower wages,
and even be in a different industry or country. In some cases, the proposed job never existed at all.
DOCUMENT CONFISCATION AND ABUSE OF THE LEGAL PROCESS
Although human trafficking does not always involve migration, traffickers exploit the vulnerability of migrants who
take risks to find work. In fact,
migrants can be quite susceptible to human trafficking. Individuals leave their homes in search of work for a
variety of reasons—fleeing poverty and unemployment, criminal violence, armed conflict, or natural disasters—and
travel to other regions or countries where language barriers, their immigration status, physical and cultural
isolation, and financial burdens can make them vulnerable. Some migrants may agree to pay a smuggler to cross into
another country to obtain work, only to find that similarly exploitative circumstances await them once they
arrive—whether at their original destination or someplace altogether different. Thus, migrant smuggling (a crime
involving transportation and the deliberate evasion of immigration laws) can turn into human trafficking, a crime
Many migrant workers have their identity or travel documents confiscated by a labor broker, sponsor, or employer.
Identity documents, in addition to being a necessity for freedom of movement, are particularly important for
accessing assistance, healthcare, and other important services. Document confiscation is a key practice used by
traffickers as the employer gains significant control over the movement of the worker, and may prevent a worker
from leaving an abusive situation, reporting abuse, or seeking employment elsewhere.
PREVENTING HUMAN TRAFFICKING IN GLOBAL SUPPLY CHAINS 17
Traffickers may also use the threat of the legal process to hold workers in compelled service. Visa sponsorship
systems, like the kafala system in effect in many countries in the Middle East, tie the issuance of employment
visas to one employer or sponsor. If a worker intends to continue working, he is tied to that sponsor and has few
options for challenging abusive practices. The fear of arrest or deportation is often enough to prevent a worker
from leaving an exploitative situation or reporting abuse to authorities.
ILO estimates there are 232 million migrant workers globally, and that this number will continue to grow. A lack of
both cooperation among source and destination countries and effective public or private standards on labor
migration create a space where recruiters, labor brokers, and employers can abuse migrants without consequence. The
demand for cheap labor and weak rule of law, coupled with high unemployment in developing countries, fosters the
phenomenon of trafficking in persons. These factors are compounded where corrupt officials facilitate irregular
migration by accepting bribes or false documentation.