The recent arrests of two Montgomery men for human trafficking has brought more attention to a nationwide problem. Human trafficking is defined by The Trafficking Protocol as:
- […] the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal, manipulation or implantation of organs;
- The consent of a victim of trafficking in persons to the intended exploitation set forth in sub-paragraph (a) of this article shall be irrelevant where any of the means set forth in subparagraph (a) have been used;
- The recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of a child for the purpose of exploitation shall be considered “trafficking in persons” even if this does not involve any of the means set forth in sub-paragraph (a) of this article;
- “Child” shall mean any person under eighteen years of age.
In 2013, it was estimated that human trafficking was a $32 billion industry. While you generally consider “human traffickers” as the guys driving trucks of people across borders for money or a pimp prostituting women and children, the truth is that it is a much larger problem than that and involves corporations of all sizes.
For example, in 2010 criminal indictments were returned against employees of a California based company, Global Horizons Manpower, Inc. These employees were accused of inducing Thai citizens into coming to work on pineapple plantations with promises of high wages and a three year employment contract. However, once the workers got to the United States, the Global Horizons’ message changed. They reportedly told their employees, “Do not escape or flee because the police or Global [Horizons management] will find, deport, or send you back to Thailand.”
The recruitment fees paid by the workers were reportedly as much as $17,000 each, with much of the balance to be paid in the United States, subtracted from the weekly wages. It was alleged that many of the recruitment fees were financed by debts secured with the workers’ family property and homes, which the government says kept many of the employees at the mercy of the defendants.
While human trafficking sometimes ends in criminal prosecution, victims are discovering that it is often civil damages that help them most. Civil damages are available to victims of human trafficking. These damages, if awarded and collected, can help the victims as they begin to rebuild their lives.
Possible causes of action include violations of:
- The Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2003
- The Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (“RICO”)
- The Thirteenth Amendment and Involuntary Servitude
- Alien Tort Claims Act
- Title VII
- Fair Labor Standards Act
- Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act
- State torts and contract claims, including, potentially, assault/battery, false imprisonment, intentional infliction of emotional distress, misrepresentation, negligence, breach of oral/written contract, unjust enrichment and quantum meruit.
For example, in February of this year, a federal jury awarded $14 million in compensatory and punitive damages to five Indian guest workers who were defrauded and exploited in a labor trafficking scheme engineered by a Gulf Coast marine services company, an immigration lawyer and an Indian labor recruiter who lured hundreds of workers to a Mississippi shipyard with false promises of permanent U.S. residency. In a separate case, in May, a federal jury in Atlanta ordered an Atlanta couple to pay $365,000 in damages to an African woman they held as a virtual slave in their home for nearly two years.
The biggest hurdle to civil remedies in human trafficking cases is finding a solvent defendant. Many times, the victims do not know who the true perpetrator is but only the local individual that is the face of the trafficking.
If you are the victim of human trafficking or know someone that is, the most important thing to do is get out of the situation. Call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center at1 (888) 373-7888 or text “HELP” or “INFO” to 233733. You can visit their website at traffickingresourcecenter.org.
Once you escape, contact an attorney to determine if you have a private cause of action against the perpetrator. There is help available.